Let’s begin! I am in my mid-20s, I have a social life, I am a dog mom, I have two college degrees, I work full-time, I am engaged to be married… (sounds pretty normal, right?) but oh wait, I have cerebral palsy and use a wheelchair.
The last part of the statement always changes people’s perception of my accomplishments and who I am as a person. All of the sudden, I become an inspiration for reaching milestones that are expected of any 20-something without a disability. This shows the low standards that society expects from people with disabilities.
When a person with a disability accomplishes something, it’s not the accomplishment people are inspired by. It’s the fact that the person with the disability broke out of the box of limitations that society puts them in. Now do not get me wrong, it is important to celebrate one’s accomplishments, but the celebration should be for the accomplishment itself, and not because it is a heartwarming story that makes others feel good.
People who are able-bodied tend to equate someone with a disability participating in society to the cuteness of a dog video on YouTube. For example, when I was in college, me and a group of friends went out for the night. As we were walking (or rolling) down the street, another patron felt the need to comment on how cute it was that I was out and about and proceeded to pat me on the head like a dog. This story is still a running joke with my friends even years later and that I should have barked at her like a dog.
The word disability has such a negative connotation to it. It is perceived as an individualized barrier that one must overcome on their own, instead of understanding that the barrier is society’s lack of accessibility and inclusion.
There is this notion that if a person with a disability accomplishes something, there is no excuse as to why someone who is able-bodied is unable to accomplish that task or something greater. This idea is an example of one of the many backhanded compliments people with disabilities have to work through every day.
The daily lives of people with disabilities should not be a platform of inspiration for people who are able-bodied, but a platform of representation for other people with disabilities. Representation empowers people who identify with a certain group. It showcases the possibilities and breaks down one barrier at a time.
When a certain group of people are represented in the media and in everyday life, it tells those who can relate that they matter and there are others just like them in this world. It is believed
that the more a person sees themselves represented in the media and the world around them that they are more likely to feel empowered and participate in everyday life. Let’s not inspire, but let’s represent, empower, change, and leave our mark in this world.
About Isabella Bullock: Isabella, or Izzy for short, is an employment specialist for the Center of Independent Living. She is an iced coffee enthusiast who enjoys getting lost in a good book. Click here to learn more about Isabella.