Today marks the 29th annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and what began as a yearly observance first celebrated by the United Nations in 1992 has made its way into the classrooms of George C. Marshall High School.
English Teacher Claire Tinsley has been promoting this day through Instagram stories and classroom banners, in an effort to boost awareness and acceptance of the millions of Americans with disabilities.
“I have a sign in my classroom that says ‘Nothing Without Us About Us’,” Tinsley said. “This is one of the slogans of the disabled rights movement. It sums up the idea that for so long, decisions have been made about what’s ‘best’ for disabled people, especially those with intellectual/developmental disabilities, without actually including those people in the discussions.”
Tinsley has had this sign up in her room all year, but explained its meaning to her students more recently. International Day of Persons with Disabilities has become increasingly special to Tinsley over the years.
”This cause is super important to me as a person with a chronic illness, cystic fibrosis,” Tinsley said. “For a long, long time, I refused to consider myself ‘disabled’ and would never have identified with that community or movement. I realized that, although I am not visibly disabled, I have both benefited from accessibly-designed communities, and been affected by ableist attitudes throughout my life. I am now proud to call myself a member of the disabled community, although most people would not know it by looking at me.”
Time was key for Tinsley to understand the community she felt a part of. Specifically, the time of the pandemic.
“It took a long time to sort of realize the realities of living as an adult with a chronic illness – the stress about health insurance, taking time off work for doctor’s appointments and hospital stays, things like that,” Tinsley said. “It was also around that time that I first learned about Judy Heumann and the Section 504 sit-in, through a Drunk History sketch, funnily enough. One of my first graduate school lesson plans was centered around chronic illness in literature. Then when COVID hit last year, I would say that’s when I really became ‘radicalized’ to the ways that disabled lives are viewed as less-than in this country.”