People With Disabilities (PWDs) are not living motivational posters. Please stop using us as such.
I get it. You’re able-bodied. You don’t want to go to the gym. Oh man, you really don’t want to go to the gym. Then someone shows this picture. A little boy, running on cheetah feet to replace the legs which he does not have.
And you think “Oh WOW. If that little kid is running why aren’t I?” Because the child without legs can run, clearly you don’t have a reason to not go to the gym.
Now, if I were to express that I am tired, or that I don’t feel like dealing with the lights in my gym (they’re flourescent and fluorescent lights give me migraines), I’d be told that I should really look at this quote: “The only disability in life is a bad attitude”
Great. Now I’m in the Great Disability Paradox.
If I’m successful. then I’m placed on a pedestal for doing things that able-bodied people can do without help. I’m labelled as “brave” because I can ride a bicycle, labelled as “inspirational” because I have college degrees. But if I am frustrated because I cannot drive, or because I need an adaptive aid to help me get around a city, or if I get tired and overwhelmed by the city that I live in – then I’m whining. And here’s a picture to prove it:
I… Right. So as long as I have a good attitude and don’t whine, I’ll be not disabled? The power of positive thinking and whatnot? I think it’s AWESOME that this little girl is learning how to run from Oscar Pistorius I think that whatever was happening when this photo was taken was probably really great. However, the fact that so far I’ve only seen photos of white children using the feet, well, that indicates a level of privilege that I’m not comfortable with. And furthermore, that little girl may someday be super frustrated and hate that she doesn’t have legs – and that’s okay. It is okay to be angry about having a disability, because sometimes, it’s just not fair.
What’s not fair is this: they’re wearing cheetah feet, a device which costs 15-18k, and will have to be replaced when they grow. What happens if their families cannot afford to continue providing him with the means to run? Shouldn’t we find it amazing that the technology exists – and sad that the technology isn’t accessible for everyone? The reason why I bring this up is because whenever I see PWD’s in the media there are two archetypes. Either the sad dejected veteran (who we admire because they became a PWD through a war) or people using new technology. And if they’re using their new technology and that’s all the public sees- what’s stopping people from understanding that this isn’t the norm?
My point is this: By being trapped by these two sides of the perceptions of disability PWD’s end up not really being able to express their feelings about their lives – and this is where the last trope ends up coming in. The Nice Trope.
We are often told that we need to be “nice” to people when they ask questions. That we need to not get angry. That we need to be calm. The trope of the Angry Disabled Lady (or man) is one that I fear I fall into frequently. I’m not being mean, though. I’m just tired of being expected to be friendly JUST because I have a disability. Just because I carry a cane, means that people get to ask me questions like “are you really blind” or “Do you have extra spidey senses?”
The only people whose questions I will answer are children’s queries – because educating them means that perhaps when they grow up they’ll know how to handle sharing a planet with PWD’s. Perhaps someday, we’ll be seen as equals – equals with differences, but still.
Please find your own inspiration to go to the gym, whether it be a famous runner, or a swimmer. But don’t use children whose futures are uncertain to get your ass in gear. The lives of PWD’s are not community property to be gawked at and used by example, it’s not right that every day, we must educate the public because of societal expectations that we be friendly and helpful.