I was on a train with my earphones shoved in my ears completely ignoring my fellow commuters (as is my want early in the morning) while reading inane things on twitter. Before getting off at her stop, a woman patted me on the arm and said “I see you on the train every morning and I just wanted to say it’s great. You’re an inspiration to me.” Should I have said “you too”? Because we were doing exactly the same thing; catching public transport to our respective places of employment. I was just doing it sitting down. Should I have pointed out that, in many ways, that requires less effort, not more?
That’s the thing about those kids in the inspiration porn pictures too – they’re not doing anything their peers don’t do. We all learn how to use the bodies we’re born with, or learn to use them in an adjusted state, whether those bodies are considered disabled or not. So that image of the kid drawing a picture with the pencil held in her mouth instead of her hand? That’s just the best way for her, in her body, to do it. For her, it’s normal.
I can’t help but wonder whether the source of this strange assumption that living our lives takes some particular kind of courage is the news media, an incredibly powerful tool in shaping the way we think about disability. Most journalists seem utterly incapable of writing or talking about a person with a disability without using phrases like “overcoming disability”, “brave”, “suffers from”, “defying the odds”, “wheelchair bound” or, my personal favourite, “inspirational”. If we even begin to question the way we’re labelled, we slide immediately to the other end of the scale and become “bitter” and “ungrateful”. We fail to be what people expect.
Which brings us back to Scott Hamilton and his mantra. The statement “the only disability in life is a bad attitude” puts the responsibility for our oppression squarely at the feet, prosthetic or otherwise, of people with disabilities. It’s victim blaming. It says that we have complete control of the way disability impacts our lives. To that, I have one thing to say. Get stuffed.