Rolling Without Limits

Your mobility may be limited. Your voice, boundless.

Ableism and Justin Bieber's Disney Wheelchair Journey
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Ableism and Justin Bieber's Disney Wheelchair Journey

With Mickey Mouse and the gang waving their hands to greet people, there's something distinctly magical about Justin Bieber's visit on wheels to the Happiest Place on Earth. Twitter was ablaze just a few months ago because of this and the discussion has since died away but there's something redeeming about the issue that's worth rediscovering.

The young star who is most often associated with controversial behavior may have inadvertently restarted a new kind of discussion regarding attitudes towards and about people who use wheelchairs. While the prevailing opinion at the time creatively jabbed their virtual fingers at the young star's inadvertent and perhaps, politically incorrect message, one voice championed a different and happier interpretation: “riding wheelchairs can be fun”.

That’s what New York Times Op-Ed contributor Ben Mattlin wrote, himself a wheelchair rider.

He elaborates further:

“The mantra of disability rights is “no pity.” Yet the truth is, taking advantage of one’s disability — or rather, of other people’s solicitousness — is one of the true joys of life on wheels.” (NYTimes)

Disney has stated that Bieber would have been treated in the same way - even without the wheelchair because of his celebrity status. Wheelchair riders get the same treatment when it comes to Disney’s rides.

Dignity and Pride

These bits and pieces of valuable perspective are slowly opening my eyes to the intricacies of the semantics, outlook and worldview of disabled people. It’s not just about the spatial differences when it comes to our “beings” or minds, but an assertion of equality through equal access.

We could probably not expect Bieber to grasp or willingly convey that message, but who knows, the heartthrob participates in a wide variety of causes. It was on 2013 when the pop star gave his 200th Make a Wish contribution. Also, in what may be a very dramatic gesture, Bieber has once given his own pair of shoes to an impoverished child in Guatemala.


Ben Mattlin, further elucidated that he believes in disability rights as more about acceptance rather than the pronounced elevation of disabled overachievers. Sadly, the notion may be harder to convey to most non-disabled people since thought and meaning are subjective. Perspective and our different worldviews often cloud this gap.

Nevertheless, this gap must be bridged in communication and a strong voice must be heard. At the time when that piece was written, Ben touted Bieber as a possible spokesman who could rightfully affirm this. Well, who knows, Bieber has lately been seen attending religious services in New York City. Maybe, a philosophical turn around is due any time soon. For now, let’s just wait for Bieber 2.0.


Creative commons image via Flickr

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