For Many With Disabilities, 'Let It Go' Is An Anthem Of Acceptance The breakout song from Disney's Frozen has inspired many marginalized groups — but its message of rejecting stigma holds special resonance for disabled people and their families.
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For Many With Disabilities, 'Let It Go' Is An Anthem Of Acceptance

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For Many With Disabilities, 'Let It Go' Is An Anthem Of Acceptance

For Many With Disabilities, 'Let It Go' Is An Anthem Of Acceptance

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Today for our American Anthem series, a song that's been heard over and over and over again in many households where the kids dictate the soundtrack.


IDINA MENZEL: (Singing) Let it go, let it go, can't hold it back anymore.

MARTIN: "Let It Go" from the Disney animated film "Frozen" - Idina Menzel is singing this version. The song won an Oscar and a Grammy. But here's something you might not know. For many people with disabilities, "Let It Go" became a personal anthem. Here's NPR's Joseph Shapiro.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO, BYLINE: First, some background - in "Frozen," "Let It Go" is sung by Queen Elsa just moments after her dark, dark secret has been discovered. For years, she's tried to hide that she possesses a magic power.


MENZEL: (Singing) Don't let them in. Don't let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be. Conceal, don't feel. Don't let them know.

SHAPIRO: Elsa can create snow and ice. It flies from her fingertips.

KRISTEN ANDERSON-LOPEZ: She's this little girl. Nobody has ever been born like her.

ROBERT LOPEZ: This girl with a secret.

MENZEL: Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez - they're married - wrote the songs for "Frozen." Elsa can't control her power. On the day of her coronation, by accident, she turns her entire kingdom to ice. She runs away to the isolation of a distant mountain. Lopez and Anderson-Lopez started writing the song thinking about how Elsa was ashamed and afraid.

ANDERSON-LOPEZ: I pitched the idea of "Let It Go" as the hook being about letting go of her past, letting go of the expectations but also, how it could let her power go. And then Bobby started playing this vamp that had all this pain in it, that (vocalizing) that was full of all that fear and shame and secret isolated pain.

SHAPIRO: Now alone, Queen Elsa accepts that she has these powers. She starts to let go of her shame.


MENZEL: (Singing) The snow blows white on the mountain tonight.

LOPEZ: For this to be a good musical, that's one of the best parts - when a character transforms.


MENZEL: (Singing) A kingdom of isolation, and it looks like I'm the queen.

SHAPIRO: The moment when Elsa transforms and accepts who she is, many people with disabilities could identify, like Michelle Black.

MICHELLE BLACK: She gave me words to describe this bipolar that I had that nobody had given me before.

SHAPIRO: Black's diagnosis of bipolar disorder was still pretty new and confusing to her and her family when the film came out.

BLACK: She used words like, the wind is howling like this swirling storm inside. And that's exactly - oh, I'm going to cry (laughter). That's exactly what it felt like to me - this swirling storm of emotions and thoughts and feelings going on inside of me that no one else understood. But Elsa seemed to get it.


MENZEL: (Singing) Couldn't keep it in. Heaven knows I've tried.

SHAPIRO: Black is a choreographer in Utah where she lives with her husband and three young children. She says sometimes, she liked her bursts of creativity and the energy. But when depression came, she'd spend hours in her room. And she could be mean to people. She had that in common with Elsa.


MENZEL: (Singing) Let it go, let it go, can't hold it back anymore.

SHAPIRO: The day Michelle Black watched "Frozen" in a theater, she was sitting next to her 7-year-old son.

BLACK: And I just - I started bawling watching this - especially this song because someone finally understood me.

SHAPIRO: It wasn't just people with bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions. Autistics, people with physical disabilities identified, too. For years, long before "Frozen," people with disabilities often felt misunderstood, isolated and excluded. A big change came in 1990 when President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act into law.


GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down. God bless you all.

SHAPIRO: More people with disabilities began to reject the stigma, even when people around them still saw their disability as a negative.

CARA LIEBOWITZ: When you tell someone you have a disability, they go, oh, I'm so sorry. No, there's nothing to be sorry about. This is who I am.

SHAPIRO: Cara Liebowitz is 26, born two years after the ADA became law. She uses a wheelchair. She has cerebral palsy. So Elsa feels like an ally.

LIEBOWITZ: Elsa says, I don't care what they're going to say. And I love that line.


MENZEL: (Singing) I don't care what they're going to say. Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway.

LIEBOWITZ: For once, she's confident in herself. And she's not letting other people's opinions drag her down.

SHAPIRO: The Census Bureau estimates that about 1 in 4 Americans has a disability. On college campuses, the number of students seeking mental health services keeps going up and up. One college health research group asked students, have you ever been diagnosed with depression? In 2000, 1 in 10 said yes - today, 1 in 4. It's Elsa's generation - a generation that's quicker, like Cara Liebowitz, to accept having a disability.

LIEBOWITZ: She's actively using her ice powers. And they're part of who she is, just like disability is part of who we are.


MENZEL: (Singing) It's time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through. No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I'm free.

ANDERSON-LOPEZ: No rights, no wrongs, no rules for me, I'm free.


MENZEL: (Singing) Let it go.

SHAPIRO: When Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez wrote "Let It Go," they weren't thinking about disability. They were thinking more about the pressure to be perfect - perfect as a woman, perfect as a student expected to get the best grades.

ANDERSON-LOPEZ: I think it's the ultimate individual over society moment, especially those individuals who have - are working so darn hard every day...

LOPEZ: To conform.

ANDERSON-LOPEZ: ...To conform and fit in and meet expectations.


MENZEL: (Singing) My power flurries through the air into the ground.

SHAPIRO: Lots of people identify with "Let It Go." It's an anthem for a time when people take pride in who they are the way they are. Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.


MENZEL: (Singing) Let it go. Let it go.

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