The Polaroid Project: Session 1

#1: Darby McQueen

By:Madison Hall

Darby McQueen is a senior at the University of Alabama majoring in social work on the Pre-Law track. At the University, Darby dedicates herself to the following organizations: New College Council, FYE New College Council, New College Review, PSALMS, ZEBRAS, and the Student Government Association. Her professional experience includes interning for Mo Brooks and Senator Rubio, being a Game-day Student Assistant for the University of Alabama, and a private tutor. She is currently an intern for West Alabama Works.

Darby McQueen is diagnosed with mast cell activation disorder, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, neurocardiogenic syncope and Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome, and has been a continuous advocate for disabled bodies on campus.



Q: At what age did you first start noticing your health issues began, and what hardships came with that?

I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 20. So when I went to school when I was younger, I never qualified for IEP, and stuff like that, even though I’ve had these conditions my whole life. They definitely have progressed, which is what lead to my diagnosis. I’ve had several different problems with stereotypes surrounding my disability.
The first problem began in my younger years. I would be late to school a lot growing up, and I remember teachers would tell me, “You need to go to bed earlier, get more sleep!” Little did they know that sleep wasn’t the issue. There was a lot of difficulty with that, because I didn’t have a diagnosis.
My mom would have to have a meeting with my teachers every quarter explain to the teachers that I had something…we didn’t know what it was. There’s already very little understanding from teachers regarding illnesses and disabilities, but there is no understanding whatsoever for a person that has an undiagnosed disability.
After I finally got my diagnosis, I noticed something— you get the most horrifying looks when you park in the handicapped spots and you don’t “look” disabled. Now every time I get a look I usually make a comment back.
I also find it very frustrating that even disabled people will be ignorant of other disabilities, their perceptions being solely based on looks. We’re in the same community. We should be sticking together.

Q: What social stigmas/ableist language do you notice comes along with having an invisible disability?

A lot of times I hear this stigma, of “Oh, you’re lazy!” That’s the saying that I hear the most. So I’m stuck. A part of me knows my body needs breaks. Yet, another part of me doesn’t want others to think my body isn’t strong enough to do daily activities (even though it isn’t sometimes, and that’s okay).
The worst is when people say, “Oh, I know how you feel, I’m sick today too, I have a cold!”
No. That’s not the same. At least your sickness will go away. I have mine for the rest of my life. The funny thing is, because of my disability, I can’t even take cold medicine! I notice people with privilege as a whole have a tendency to try to talk over less privileged people’s narratives, as a result of seeking the spotlight. But for abled people, their spotlight is the entire world. I’m still struggling to find the slightest bit of light.

Q: What is your most memorable experience of discrimination against you for being a woman with a disability, and how did you respond to that?

Well, public policy is still very much a boy’s world. When I interned at Senator Rubio’s office, I noticed the male interns would get cliche-y and leave me out of every conversation. It was frustrating that they took me as weaker or less intelligent because of my identities. So to fit in, I not only had to act more like them, I had to hide my disability completely. It’s heartbreaking that my first major experience with the field of work I aspire to be in didn’t want to see me for me.

Q: How do you tell a friend they’re using ableist language without it being awkward?

How I approach the situation usually depends on how well I know that person. But as of recently, I’ve learned to be a lot more bold. Someone has to stand up.
First, I calm myself down and rememberthat not everyone has come from a background where they are informed on ableist language and how to avoid it.
Then, if it happened just one-on-one I bring it up right away. If it’s in front of a crowd, I save the talk for later, but I’ll text them immediately on a time to meet up. I like to tell them in person so they can understand. When I sit down and explain my perspective to them, tell them why that upset me, it’s hard for people to tell me that my experience doesn’t exist or matter. Thankfully, I’ve never had any throw backs.

Q: What advice do you have for women with disabilities?

Don’t let the whole “weakness” factor go deep into your mind and defeat you. I’m not saying that there’s never a point where you need to take a day off, what I am saying, is keep trying. You’re going to get beaten down by society, and man, even your own body is going to beat you down. But you don’t have to wallow in that and let that break you.

Q: Growing up, who was the best female role model for you?

I really admired Reese Witherspoon’s character “Elle Woods” in Legally Blonde. After I watched that movie for the first time as a little blonde kid, I noticed a saying thrown around that I often heard from my peers. You know, “Blondes have more fun/Oh, you’re a dumb blonde.” The movie reminded me of one important thing: no matter your hair color or gender, you can do anything. Elle Woods being blonde, being a woman and being successful was life changing for me, especially since I want to go into the public policy field.

Q: Have you ever found good representation in the media that highlights the intersection of your experience? If not, do you have any advice for women/girls with disabilities looking for inspirational women/people?

I haven’t seen a mainstream role model that has my disabilities. Even though my conditions are rarer, it’s still disheartening in a sense.
To those who don’t see themselves represented, don’t lose hope. Who knows, you could be the first to break that ceiling and be the perfect representation for young girls to look up to. Don’t stop fighting for your story to be heard.

Q: What does success mean to you?

For me, success is following Christ and in that bringing my all and passion to whatever I do. And perhaps, most importantly, loving people and for me that means advocating for them.



Kristen is a contributor for GirlSpring. Her posts focus on GirlSpring updates and current events.

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