Note To Self: People Don't Want To Know They've Been Offensive
The other week I wrote a piece for the Huff Post about how Stephen Hawking's death was being portrayed as a means to freedom from disability. I wanted to show how this perception could be problematic for other disabled people, as it alludes to the "death is better than disability" trope. In my mind, I was simply putting forward an opinion to counteract the ableist rhetoric that was populating social media. In my mind, I was doing a good thing for the disabled community at large.
Apparently though, the Internet does not always see things my way.
It wasn't long after the article had been published that some comments started to appear that really took me aback. Maybe I'm just naive, but as I was writing the piece I had no notion of the counter-attack that was coming my way. After all, I wasn't berating anybody in particular, I was merely pointing out that if you assume Stephen Hawking is happier now that he's dead it might stir up some ill feeling in other people who experience disability.
Apparently though, the Internet has other ideas.
For the record, and quite annoyingly, in preparation for writing this piece I re-checked the Huff Post article to screen-grab the relevant comments, but unfortunately they've all been deleted. So, while I'm able to reveal some of the comments that still exist on Twitter, I'm not able to recall verbatim the ones that I really wanted to talk about. #TotesAnnoysBalls.
Anyway, let's look at what some people have said in response to the article:
"Hawking hated his wheelchair. A wheelchair is not an asset. It is not to be aspired to. It is an encumbrance. There is nothing offensive about admitting the truth, which is that every wheelchair bound person would rather be able bodied and free to run up a staircase."
Wow. Just wow. I don't even know where to start with this one. On the basis of the person's Twitter profile I'm gonna assume they're not disabled. Firstly, I want to see the quote from Hawking where he declares this hatred for his wheelchair - if it does indeed exist I'd like to know in what context it was said. Secondly, a wheelchair is an asset. I don't even think I'm being subjective here. It's then ludicrous to ratify this statement by stating that "it is not to be aspired to". These points are not connected. It is an asset and has nothing to do with aspiration.
To which I also say, at no point in my original piece did I talk about aspiring to use a wheelchair. It's a fucking nonsense. Of course no one aspires to own a wheelchair. The implication of owning a wheelchair is that you're at the wrong end of a medical condition. No one aspires to that. No one is suggesting that by acknowledging that Stephen Hawking used a wheelchair, that life with Motor Neuron Disease is aspirational. Also, a wheelchair is not an "encumbrance". You could describe this person's views on disability as an encumbrance, but I don't think the thing that provides mobility and independence can be considered an encumbrance.
As for his final piece of devastating insight, I just can't argue with it. He's bang on the money. Of all the things I miss doing like playing football, shagging and shitting, running up a staircase tops the fucking list. Sometimes I just sit - bound - in my wheelchair at the bottom of a flight of stairs and dream. There's nothing I would rather do.
To be honest I can't be bothered to analyse another one of these nonsense Tweets - this blog is already long enough and they rile me up too much. What I will say is that, for me, as someone who has only just started down this blogging path, it's been a valuable lesson in how things can be perceived. I genuinely didn't consider that there would be any backlash from my blog. But now I see that if you challenge a normative value, you can't expect it to be overturned on the strength of a bloody good piece of writing. What's more, I also learnt that I don't speak for all disabled people. And while I believe that my point of view serves the greater good, I shouldn't assume that it's shared by everyone in a wheelchair. Because it isn't.