Op-Ed: You Don't Have to Like Being Disabled to be Proud of It

Rachel Charlton-Dailey winning the Women in Journalism Georgina Henry Award at the British Journalism Awards presented by the editor of the Press Gazette Dominic Ponsford, sponsor Wiggin Spokesperson Adelaide Lopez (in gold) and editor of the Daily Mirror Allison Philips

Rachel Charlton-Dailey / The Press Gazette

Rachel Charlton-Dailey (she/they) is an award-winning journalist specializing in health and disability. Their work is featured in publications such as Healthline, Huffpost, The Daily Mirror, The Guardian, and Business Insider. Charlton-Dailey often uses their platform to spotlight issues that affect disabled people.

Disability Pride Month marked a career high for me. For the first week of July, I served as a guest editor on the U.K.’s Daily Mirror, leading a package showcasing disabled individuals.

This groundbreaking series was conceived, written, and edited by disabled people, detailing the richness of disabled life.

But being disabled is hard. I’ll be the first to admit that.

Living with chronic conditions comes with a certain level of unpredictability. Some days I ache. Other days I can’t get out of bed. Even when I feel OK, I anxiously wonder: Will I have enough energy to get through the day? Will my body decide to attack itself today?

Despite these glaring challenges, I am proud to live with lupus, arthritis, endometriosis, and depression. Even though I don’t like being disabled, I can’t imagine my life any other way. And that’s because of the strength of the disabled community.

This community is unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of. We offer each other support and comfort. We fight for each other, ourselves, and those without a voice. We fight because nobody else will fight for us.

Why Disability Pride Matters

The world we live in was built for non-disabled people. Alongside the disabled community, I am constantly fighting for my rights as a disabled person: My right to access a building’s entrance; my right to a healthy, remote working environment; my right to be heard by healthcare professionals.

Disability Pride Month has marked a time when we can pivot from the frustrations of fighting and instead celebrate our disabilities loudly.

I notice there’s still often hesitancy from non-disabled people to use the word “disabled” at all, in part due to the stigma attached to being disabled.

This is precisely why we need Disability Pride. We’re not ashamed of who we are or the conditions we live with. Non-disabled folks tend to think that because we don’t enjoy being disabled, we’re ashamed of it and want to change. But they need to be asking themselves a more difficult question: Who is it that really needs to change?

What Being Disabled Means to Me

Despite how much I dislike being disabled sometimes, I am proud to be disabled. I’m proud of the resilience disability has taught me. I’m proud of how much I’ve learned to advocate for myself and others. I’m proud that despite all the awful things I’ve been through, I’m not bitter and still want to make the world a better place.

I’m proud that I’ve been able to dedicate my career to raising the voices of other disabled people.

I created my own platform, The Unwritten, for disabled people to share their stories. They don’t have to be inspirational. They don’t have to showcase trauma to drive website clicks.

Through crowdfunding and the amazing generosity of my community, I was able make sure they were each fairly paid, too.

In December of 2021, my work on The Unwritten earned me the Women in Journalism Georgina Henry Award for Digital Innovation at The British Journalism Awards. The pride I felt that night and the overwhelming love and support from the community showed me how worthwhile all that work had been.

While having a dedicated space for the stories of disabled people matters, my work at the Daily Mirror showed me how much it means to have disabled people appropriately featured in mainstream media. I was able to ensure headlines weren’t clickbait, copy didn’t include traumatically-leading language, and that all contributors fit the ethos of the project.

Non-disabled friends told me how much they learned from the series. Disabled readers reached out to tell me what it meant to them to see these stories in a major outlet.

That’s why I do this. I want to help make being disabled just a little bit easier for just one person. Being disabled is tough and you don’t have to like it, but you also don’t have to hate who you are.

By Rachel Charlton-Dailey
Rachel Charlton-Dailey (she/they) is a health and disability journalist. They serve as editor-in-chief of The Unwritten, a platform for the stories of disabled people. Their work features in publications such as Healthline, Huffpost, Metro UK, The Guardian, and Business Insider.