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Guest blog post: Fighting Shame with History by Katie Murphy

The following blog post was originally posted on September 2, 2014 by Katie Murphy on the Longmore Institute on Disability blog. Below are a few excerpts.

Getting ready to start a new semester is a bit different for me. Like everyone else, I have to buy my books and readjust to a less nocturnal schedule. But, as a disabled student, I have the added preparation of having to work through a lifetime of internalized ableism at the beginning of each semester. You see, at the start of each term, I have to meet with my professors and explain to them my accommodations. And no matter how awesome and with it my professors are, requesting accommodations makes me a wee bit anxious. Before I even walk into office hours, I have to go to battle with all the awful ideas about disability that I’ve been exposed to since birth.

I have to engage in a little mental boxing match with self-doubt: “Do I really even need those accommodations? I could get by without them, right? I did before.” And guilt: “I’m wasting my professor’s time. They’re going to hate me. I’m such an inconvenience.” And shame: “A good student and a stronger person wouldn’t need all this stuff. I guess I don’t deserve any praise I get from my family about going to grad school. I guess I’ll have to give my Uncle Jimmy back that sweet card he sent me when I graduated from Berkeley. Oh my god, where did I put that card?Where did I put that card?

And I’m guessing a lot of other disabled students go through the same thing. (Minus the card from my Uncle Jimmy part.)

But we don’t have to. We really, really don’t have to.

And I think most of us know this. Intellectually, I know that accommodations are my right and I’m not getting some unfair advantage over everyone else. My accomplishments are my own, and I don’t need to torture myself by going without accommodations.

And yet…

Pure logic isn’t always the best tool for fighting feelings like self-doubt, guilt, or shame. Disabled people grow up learning to hate themselves, to hate their disability, because the world we live in hates disability for no logical reason. And sometimes the best way to fight that kind of illogic is with more illogic.

If I can’t completely get rid of that part of me that demands I feel bad for being a disabled student, I can at least trick it. “Hey ‘Part of Me That Demands I Feel Bad for Being a Disabled Student’! I don’t owe you any feel bads. Somebody else already felt bad on my behalf. My bill is paid. My debt is settled. You can stop leaving harassing voicemails.”

You see, in 1977, years before I was born, 150 disabled people occupied the old federal building in San Francisco to force the government to enact the first civil rights legislation for disabled people in US history. As I’ve learned going over interviews with some of the occupiers for the Longmore Institute’s Patient No More exhibit, one of the major motivations for occupying the building was the right for people with disabilities to get an education. Some of the sit-in participants went to segregated schools—separate schools for disabled children. Some were lucky enough to go to one of the few universities that admitted disabled students. They all sat-in so I could go to school and have the accommodations I need.

Just think: For twenty-six days, around 150 disabled people lived in a single floor of an office building. Only a handful were aware that they would be occupying the building at all, let alone for a month, so most participants didn’t have any bedding or a change of clothes with them. Many participants required attendant care for eating, using the bathroom, or preventing pressure sores. All of that care had to be improvised inside the building with everyone helping wherever and whoever they could. Some protesters had medicines that needed refrigeration, so a makeshift fridge was created with a window air conditioner and a plastic sheet. When the phone lines were cut, they communicated with the outside world by signing to people picketing in front of the building. Their struggle was supported by the Black Panthers, who made the protesters (including Black Panther Bradly Lomax and his attendant Chuck Jackson) two hot meals a day. When a bomb threat was called in, they didn’t leave the building. The protesters were in such close quarters with such limited opportunities for personal hygiene that many of them got crabs.


On top of all that, the building was completely inaccessible. The protestors were fighting for the implementation of the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which made it illegal for entities receiving federal funding to discriminate on the basis of disability. Under Section 504, the very building the protestors were occupying would have to be made accessible to disabled people. Yet they stayed in this inaccessible building for nearly a month to demonstrate the need for disability rights legislation, showing the nation the strength of the disability community and its allies.

If you, like me, ever find yourself feeling guilty or ashamed about being a disabled student, doubting whether you really need or deserve accommodations, I encourage you to think back to the 504 protests. If you ever feel society tugging at you to “get by” without accommodations, “toughen up,” “suck it up,” “stick it out,” because “the whole world doesn’t cater to you,” remember that you are part of a community that has spent enough time living in an inaccessible world. If you feel tempted to do an ableist society’s work by torturing yourself for being disabled, remember that over a hundred protestors (and an infestation of crabs) stayed in a building for nearly a month without the comforts of home or any accommodations or accessible structures. Remember that all the discomfort and indignities they faced as protestors were so that you wouldn’t have to go through the same thing. You’re relieved of any duty to feel guilty or ashamed about being a disabled student.

For the entire blog post, go to:

PHOTO: The 504 protest in San Francisco – outside the building. Photograph by Anthony Tusler.


Katie Murphy is a graduate student in Women and Gender Studies at San Francisco State University and student assistant at the Longmore Institute. She also runs Space Crip, a blog about disability in sci-fi/fantasy.


The Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability expands its founder’s concept of social justice by hosting unlikely conversations to transform thinking about the human condition past and present.

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Under the leadership of Professor Catherine Kudlick, the Institute’s projects and events challenge prevailing notions that disability can only be a hopeless tragedy by showcasing disabled people’s strength, ingenuity, and originality. Drawing upon the vibrant Bay Area disability community, we promote new forms of teaching, scholarship, artistic creation, strategizing, and freewheeling conversation for disabled and nondisabled people alike.

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