My name is Mark Steidl, and I a 27-year-old man living with cerebral palsy (CP). But I am much more than my disability. I am a college graduate, a disability and LGBT rights activist, co-Founder & program manager of Self-Advocacy Voices, I am from the fabulous city of Pittsburgh, PA, and I am gay and proud!
CP is a neurological condition that affects the way my brain directs my muscles—which means that I am reliant on a wheelchair for mobility, and on my DynaVox communication device ─ to speak. It also means that I need help to maintain a healthy, safe, and independent lifestyle.
Home care means independence and freedom
At home and in the community, I have home health aides (HHAs) who help me with various physical things. My aides are very important; they enable me to live at home with my family, work, and be an outspoken advocate for underserved communities. All things I would not be able to do if I were living in a long-term facility.
I came out after I graduated from high school in 2013 because I was finally ready to be my truest self in college. During that time, I participated in the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) where I made wonderful friends who saw me for who I am ─ a sassy gay queen with CP. Now, my caregivers take me to visit my boyfriend, go to LGBT community events and restaurants, and be a productive member of society ─ they are non-judgmental and are entirely accepting of my sexuality. My in-home caregivers allow me to live my most authentic self.
I consider myself an advocate for myself and for other people in the disability and LGBT communities. My disability is visible, and many people are likely to underestimate me and not see the person that I am ─ the same way they may view me differently because of my identity. Which is why I have to challenge society’s perception each and every day through new ways of thinking and through advocacy.
A lot of progress has been made, but more is needed
The efforts of many dynamic leaders, innovators, and activists affect our lives every day and have really changed how society accepts people like me. The things I do every day would have been impossible 30 or 40 years ago. Before the changes in education laws that occurred in the 1970s, I would have been considered too disabled to attend public school, let alone Community College of Allegheny County, and coming out as gay would have been socially unacceptable.
But much more needs to be done and much more can be done. We have to keep advocating for the changes and the opportunities we want. Home care must continue to be a priority in the eyes of legislators, so that more people like me can continue to have the freedom to live life exactly how we see fit. We have the power to create positive change!
Mark Steidl (they/them)
Disability & LGBT Rights Activist
Co-Founder & Program Manager of Self-Advocacy Voices