There’s no amount of personal success that acts as a cure to a diagnosis, but you wouldn’t know that watching news report dripping in inspiration porn hoping for that last-ditch ratings bump. The American public is inundated with images of disability that show the smiling faces of disabled people “not letting their diagnosis of [fill in the blank] get in the way of their lifelong dream of [fill in the blank].” News media, especially unchecked puff pieces, would lead you to believe that the “only disability is a bad attitude.” This is an ableist lie of epic proportions: you can be successful with a disability. The reason this lie is so popular, though is because it quietly promotes a narrative of “personal work ethic”; that if you’re disabled and work, the world may forget what’s “wrong” with you and treat you like a human being, but if you “choose” not to work, you’re lazy and deserve the suffering that accompanies your diagnosis.
I appreciated MSNBC’s Coverage of NationalADAPT protesters outside of Mitch McConnell’s office, but the well-researched and thought-provoking piece will not do enough to erase decades-worth of poor reporting on disabilities. In fact, that is why we’re in the situation we are now. A majority of those in favor of the American Health Care Act believe that if disabled people really wanted healthcare, they would work for it, and if we don’t, we don’t really want it. In interviews about the upcoming Senate vote on healthcare, Kellyanne Conway said that if people want healthcare, they’ll “work for it like you and I.” When called out for this line of thinking, politicians and abled society only have to think of that fantastic young man with Down Syndrome who opened his own restaurant to know that the person before them really isn’t trying all that hard. In contrast, when it’s not being suggested we should just work harder, we are being portrayed as burdens on society, and in some cases, being blamed for our own deaths. Senator Pat Toomey (regrettably from my home state of Pennsylvania) came under fire (ironically) when he compared disabled people to burned out houses saying that you don’t insure homes once there’s been a fire.
And, for the sake of fairness, let’s not allow entertainment media off the hook either. Films and television feed us the idea that disabled people are an emotional step-ladder for abled people’s development and our stories are rarely told outside the context of what they can do for other people.
Now is the time for disabled people to tell their own stories. Abled fragility has fumbled the ball. They tell us that they can’t see our disabilities because they don’t want to ask themselves the question why it’s so rare to see disabled people succeeding where they don’t think we should be able to. It’s also quite unhelpful that Hollywood creates these “disabled people can do anything” stereotypes while failing to actually allow disabled people to “do anything” such as act in productions that seem tailor made for us. (only about 5% of disability in films and TV is played by disabled people) There’s nothing wrong with being disabled. You can dislike your diagnosis while loving the person it makes you into, and you can want the complexities of disability to not be reduced to an inaccurate trope.
There is some hope on the horizon, Writer S. E. Smith has created a resource for disabled writers and sources in an effort to diversify the writing and source pool from which publications and writers can fill their sites and papers. Celebrated writers within the disabled community already have profiles on the site and I encourage other disabled writers to do the same, because if we cannot regularly rely on others to write our story, we should do it our damn selves.