I realize that this post might be a bit controversial. Please just think of it as food for thought. How do we as individuals with disabilities shape the public’s views of our daily circumstances? With this question in mind, I started thinking about how people with disabilities are portrayed in the media. It’s true that the vast majority of stories revolve around the pitied gimp or the gimp with some amazing super power. Yet I wonder if we, as the community of people with disabilities, don’t play into these public perceptions. I read enough disability based literature to know that we play these cards to thicken our story lines just as often as the able bodied reporter or screen writer embed them into their pieces. To illustrate my point, my husband and I just finished reading, I’m Walking as Straight as I Can by Geri Jewell. She tied just about every negative aspect of her life, personality, career to her cerebral palsy. In fact, she used the term cerebral palsy in about every fifth line through the book. I understand that her career as a comedian centered on her disability, but we wanted to know what else comprised her life. Owen and I both have cp, but we certainly don’t think of this limitation as the essence of our being.
I see the same push/pull dynamic between the pitied gimp self-image and the super gimp image on the reality show Push Girls. One minute a disabled woman on the show is saying how she is perfectly okay with her disability and the next minute she’s describing how much it totally sucks. I know that life sometimes works that way. We all have mixed feelings regarding our disabilities. I just wonder if the public knows how to process these contradictions. On the other hand, I have no idea how we tell our stories without describing the inevitable hard aspects of being gimpy or boasting about the good stuff, because sometimes we totally amaze ourselves. Still, it would be nice to not be seen as an inspiration simply for getting out of bed in the morning. There has to be a way that we as people with disabilities can show the general public a more balanced picture of our lives. How do we create people first images without denying who we are?
Since we watch the same movies and read the same news articles as the able-bodied majority, it’s not surprising that these skewed images have seeped into our collective subconscious. Maybe we have been programmed to see ourselves in these extreme images, and this is what we need to “overcome” as we ask our non-disabled counterparts to look beyond our limitations. My husband and I did an interview after our wedding last October. While we tried to keep it as non gimperational as possible, I wonder if the mere fact that we agreed to the interview proves that even we saw our wedding as special on the basis of our disabilities. Thanks for reading! I would love to read your comments.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.