“Claiming Crip” to reclaim identity

Young woman dressed in blue with glasses smiles into the camera
Karin Hitselberger

History has shown that changing social perceptions of marginalized people is one of the most impactful ways of creating change. Realizing that those viewed as “other” or “different” are actually very similar to everyone else – that we as humans share so many common goals and dreams, such as happiness, love, family, and community. The marriage equality movement, the women’s rights movement, the ongoing civil rights fight – all of these have benefited from conveying the universal truth that all people are just that: people, deserving to be recognized, humanized, and to have their basic rights respected. And the way to accomplish this is often accompanied with the sharing of personal experiences and stories from the members of these marginalized groups. We can currently see this happening even more within the disability rights movement.

One example is Karin Hitselberger of the blog Claiming Crip. Working on a Master’s Degree in Disability Studies, Hitselberger started her blog while she was an intern in Washington DC with the American Association of People with Disabilities. In her blog description, Hitselberger states that Claiming Crip is “about claiming my identity and not having it thrust upon me by other people.” She has filled her online journal with stories and reflections on living in our society as someone with a disability that is not always accommodated or accepted. Her strong will and determination shine through articles with titles such as “I’m Not a Pet and I’m Not a Coathanger, Stop Touching Me!” and “Being My Friend Does Not Make You a Hero.”

In these pieces Hitselberger emphasizes that people who use wheelchairs have just as much of a right to courtesy and respect as people who do not, explaining that even her friends sometimes place bags or purses on her wheelchair without asking her first. She states that “they forget that my chair is an extension of me,” and that “it blows my mind every day how people do and say things to me that they would never do or say to me if I wasn’t in a wheelchair.” Hitselberger’s sentiments are similar to those expressed by Alex Stoffel, a Rooted in Rights contributor.

Hitselberger also critiques a recent news story covering when two North Carolina State University athletes ate lunch with a student who used a wheelchair. According to Hitselberger, the article received comments such as “inspirational,” and “extraordinary.” In response, Hitselberger argues that such stories are not news and “pitching it as such is damaging. These football players are not heroic, and perpetuating the idea that they are simply for sitting and having lunch with a fellow college student who happens to be in a wheelchair is incredibly ableist, as well as damaging and destructing.” She concludes with saying that, “We have to stop perpetuating the ableist idea that being friends with or associating with disabled people automatically makes an able-bodied person somehow better than everybody else.”

The above descriptions are of just a few of Hitselberger’s articles. Her most popular pieces have received upwards of forty comments a piece. If you would like to learn more about Karen Hitselberger or read her work, you can visit her blog Claiming Crip.

Emily Pate is a third-year student at Seattle University interested in Strategic Communications, learning Spanish, and working with non-profits. Her work for Rooted In Rights is focused on discussing current events in the community of people with disabilities. Her experience previous to Rooted In Rights includes writing broadcasts for KBOO radio in Portland, OR, and managing a neighborhood blog in the Seattle community. In addition to work, Emily enjoys drawing, spending time with her friends and family, and backpacking.