a multicolored look through a kaleidoscope. A wheel with pink, green, and blue streaks.
Photograph by Sheila Sund

Adaptive Joy

DISABLED PEOPLE aren’t supposed to be anywhere—let alone the woods—having a great time, as evinced by the tiny blonde girl who screams as I speed by on my racing recumbent trike. “But why is she riding that, Mommy? Why is she riding that thing?”

“Because it feels amazing!” I yell at her over my shoulder. I have upset the entire orientation of her universe just by being me, in public, completely shredding the hell out of the Magnuson Park trail network in this adaptive trike that weighs maybe eighteen pounds. The girl is still bellowing “Why?” while her no doubt embarrassed parents shush her. But I’m already a half mile away.

Michel Foucault said “visibility is a trap,” a sentiment echoed by Black trans disabled scholars like Tourmaline. Trans visibility doesn’t equal fewer trans murders or more trans justice. I agree. Ads featuring Paralympians don’t help raise Social Security Disability Insurance rates from below the sub-sub poverty line, raise caregiver wages above the subminimum wage, or end police violence against disabled Black, Indigenous, and people of color, who are 50 percent of all people killed by the cops every year—organizing does that.

It’s also true that enjoying ourselves (in ways the abled many never have conceived of) in our vibrant, weird, improbable crip body-minds has the power to shock the abled and upend their ideas of the way things—bodies, movement, life—are supposed to be.

However, I didn’t come here to be a teachable moment for this tiny white kid. I’m here because my current town of Seattle is the home of Outdoors for All, a truly incredible adaptive sports center that has a warehouse of handcycles and trikes and quadracycles. Anyone disabled can just show up and borrow them for free.


Grief lives in the body; crip grief lives in the crip body. And I am working out my crip grief by moving in a crip way on this land, on this trike.


I was a disabled autistic kid whose dad raged at me. Bikes weren’t accessible to my body, and my lack of ability to ride one was a huge shame to him. Then I was a disabled autistic twenty-three-year-old who bought a used Pashley trike from a bike place called Parts Unknown, down an alley in Kensington Market, Toronto. I started speeding all over the city: triking standing up on my pedals and looking like the Road Warrior, beating my friends who took the bus to work, and just having massive crip body joy all the time.

It’s been a minute though. I’ve mostly been hanging out in my crip home space for a year and a half, and it’s been a terrible year and a half. My friend Stacey died, my friend LL died, my dad died—more people than I can count who I knew a little bit or were friends or relatives of loved ones died. And like every disabled person I know, I spent the year terrified that everyone I love—because my whole beloved community is disabled—was going to be murdered by a virus plus care rationing. I wore a hole in my couch crying out my grief and mostly didn’t get that far from my house in the Cheasty Greenspace, the forty-five-acre urban forest I live in. I went for slow cane walks by the blackberry vines, western red cedars, bigleaf maples, and trickling urban streams of my neighborhood. When I was terrified, I visited the ring of cedars by the mailboxes to breathe and pray.

I went to an incredible QTBIPOC grief workshop after Stacey passed, held by friends in T’karonto (Toronto). They asked us to pay attention to the land we were on as we began to write and meditate on grief—emphasizing that we could do this even if we could just see the land outside our window from bed, centering disabled realities. Grief is held by land, not separately, they said. And working with our grief has everything to do with our rights and responsibilities to the Indigenous lands we’re on—as Indigenous people, uninvited guests, or people brought here by force—and the relationship we build with that land.

Grief lives in the body; crip grief lives in the crip body. And I am working out my crip grief by moving in a crip way on this land, on this trike. I am luxuriating in my ride, inches from the ground. I am whipping by everyone and also easing off the gears and moving slow. I am leaning back, pedaling through all the ecosystems of this 350-acre park: the lake, wetlands, grasslands, the many sports fields with kicking children and picnicking adults, all of us looking to this land to hold our hearts. I have a map, but it’s not the world’s greatest and it’s not the point. The point is to enjoy going whichever way my body wants to go, to get lost and figure my way back, with my brain and my muscles, my felt sense of what direction I want to stretch into.

At one point I’m reclining and pedaling opulently through a long wetland boardwalk path, the boards quietly clanking under my wheels. The blackberries are at eye level, and I cruise, picking them and throwing them in my mouth as I ride in a delicious slow. I get to see all the wheel-height things walkies miss because most of them are five or six feet up, not two.

Three or four miles later, I pull up by a pebbly Lake Washington beach. My trike is my chair. I lean back and watch the lake’s waves, her giant inland ocean. I think of all the stores she holds. I bring my grief to her, and my leaning-back adaptive joy, and she accepts it with wide-open hands.



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Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is the Lambda Literary Award–winning author of Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Tonguebreaker, and Dirty River. A disability justice movement worker and 2020 United States Artists Disability Futures Fellow, they are a Rust Belt–raised Sri Lankan-Irish-Roma nonbinary femme currently living in South Seattle, Duwamish territories. Her new book, The Future Is Disabled, is forthcoming in fall of 2022.



  1. I loved this essay and this entire issue. It expanded my world. I didn’t know I was missing this perspective until I read this article and the rest in this issue. I’m so very thankful you’re bringing these voices to Orion.

  2. Thank you Lakshmi for this perspective I have not seen from before. You opened my eyes and my heart.

  3. Lakshmi is one of the most amazing people! Brilliant, compassionate, insightful and so much more. Her book Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice is at the top of my list for books about disability, community and Justice. As a disabled and chronically ill person her words and ideas have been nourishing and they also challenge me to do the work of dismantling my internalized oppression.

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