I've had the honor to become involved with an amazing suicide prevention movement specifically for people with disabilities called Live On. The project was founded by activists Dominick Evans, Leah Smith, and Julie Farrar to build a network of peer support for people with disabilities and to connect them with "resources they need to live on." Thank you Dominick, Julie, and Leah for your powerful leadership.
According to their site, "The Live On Movement is a disability-led project for people with disabilities to see how worthwhile life is. Life can be hard sometimes, and this is even more true for people living with disabilities. Young people with disabilities face bullying, youth and adults with disabilities can be forced into nursing facilities, and plenty of people and businesses still discriminate against us every day. Whether you were born with your disability, your disability has slowly progressed as you grew older, or you suddenly acquired your disability, the challenges you face are real. But you can get through them! Some people do not think they can get through the challenges they face, and some people may think there’s no way to live a happy, fulfilling life with a disability, but we know that’s not true. The Live On Movement was created to show people with disabilities the incredible lives they can lead, and all they need to do right now is choose to Live On.The mission of the Live On Movement is to show disabled people everywhere that life is worth living and to connect people with the resources they need to Live On."
Mental health issues are stigmatized, even in the disability community. We need to speak out and encourage those who are struggling to seek help. Ableist biases affect our access to appropriate mental healthcare. According to disability rights activist Rebecca Cokley,
"Mainstream society reacts differently to disabled person killing themselves than a nondisabled person. When a disabled person commits suicide you typically respond with “well, now they’re in a better place.” Or “God has made little jimmy walk now (If Jimmy used a wheelchair.)” Even when eulogizing a disabled person nondisabled people find it appropriate to erase their disability or minimize their difference ‘he was small, but the biggest person I ever knew’ or ‘In Heaven everyone is beautiful.’ You even have the audacity to attack us, DISABLED PEOPLE, when we encourage a person with a disability to get the help and supports they need to live instead of kill themselves."
Through the Live On movement, we strive to give disabled folks the tools to live instead of the tools to die. Recently, Dominick invited me to share a letter describing how I #LiveOn and why this movement matters to me. Many of you have seen it on Facebook, but my letter is below for those who need encouragement.
Dear Disabled Friend Who’s Feeling Lost, Frustrated, and Forgotten,
I hear you. I have felt the emotions you’re feeling right now. It’s true that the world can make life difficult for us. It requires real energy and real strength to navigate a society that’s not quite designed for us and it’s absurd that looking for an accessible public bathroom is still a scavenger hunt. I know what it’s like to just feel tired. Tired of waiting for caregivers to show up. Tired of filling out mountains of paperwork just to get basic services. Tired of answering (or trying to ignore) strangers’ invasive questions about your disability. It’s okay to feel tired and to acknowledge that some of these realities just suck.
But believe me when I say life with a disability is worth living. I have already accomplished more than I ever believed possible, and so can you. I went away to college nearly 900 miles from home. I hired my own staff to help me with daily care tasks through a program at my school that helps coordinate personal assistants. Some days were a challenge, but it was all worth it. It was so cool having my own dorm room and being able to call home to share my adventures. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in community health and I liked my school so much that I am now back there getting a master’s degree in social work. If someone had told me all this were possible when I was a shy, lonely seventh grader hiding in the elevator before the school bell rang, I wouldn’t have believed it. But sometimes, dreams come true.
I know it’s easy to feel like your disability only brings “The Bad.” Getting stared at, discriminated against, treated like you are invisible…all of those things hurt. But my disability has also brought me a lot of awesomeness. I met some of my closest friends through places and spaces related to my disability: summer camp, physical therapy, an adapted dance class…the list goes on. Whenever I feel sad about my disability, I think of all the amazing, kind people it has brought into my life and that nearly makes my heart burst with joy. Being disabled has sharpened my sense of humor too, and I often tease my friends that if I didn’t have cerebral palsy, I’d run out of hilarious material for my someday autobiography.
You matter. You are not a burden. You don’t need to walk or talk or hear or see or think “like everyone else” to be valuable. Never apologize for the help that you need, the space you take up, or the extra time it takes you to do things. You have every right to be exactly the way you are. If you don’t believe me right this minute, you can get there. As my activist role model Laura Hershey once wrote, “being proud takes practice.” But don’t give up… and know that even in the moments when you don’t feel proud of you, I sure do. Better days are coming and I can’t wait to see you kick some butt. My squeaky purple wheelchair and I are forever cheering you on.
#LiveOn, my friend. You’ve got this.
If you or someone you care about would like to write a letter or seek resources to Live On, please visit www.liveon.net A comprehensive list of resources can be found here. Karin Hitselberger of Claiming Crip also lists some helpful suggestions for non-disabled folks supporting a loved one in crisis on her blog. You matter. We need you. I need you. Challenges are real, but so is hope. Live on.