Okay, the title may imply that I have some issues with people in wheelchairs . . . this is not true (in fact, one of my bestfriends is in a wheelchair and I tell you now, she is uber RAD). I do, however, take issue with the media’s portrayal of disability as an inherently “wheelchair” condition, as well as the idea that “disabled” people are inherently unhappy with their position in life. I have decided to talk about this because of two particular moments in tele land that left me gobsmacked.
Firstly – Cherry Healey, BBC’s self-styled, life documenter extraordinaire, currently has a show on BBC 3 entitled “How To Get A Life . . .” One of these particular doco’s caught my interest because it was subtitled “How Prejudiced Are We?” and would be looking at physical disability as one of the those prejudices. I settled down to watch and was, at first, impressed by the array of diversity that Cherry was exploring. And then it came to the prejudice of disability. Cherry had decided to interview a young woman who had only acquired her disability in the past few years. This woman’s life, pre-disability, was portrayed as lively, happy, very sexual (she had been a stripper), and “fulfilled.” Cherry, then went on to describe this woman’s attitude to her “new” disability as refreshing – as “getting on with her life.” The impression I got of the woman was that she was bitter, sad at what she had “lost,” and to entrenched in her own stereotypical prejudices about disability that she couldn’t really embrace this new aspect of life that she had. In my opinion, this woman was not getting on with her life, in fact, I feel that she was very much stuck in the past. Her obsession with her sexuality as a disabled woman put me on edge (sexuality is just one part of the human experience, to narrow life to just this aspect means one misses out on so much). The woman now earned her living by doing “wheelchair porn.” “Wheelchair porn.” This woman had reduced her disability to simple sexual aesthetics – she was seeing her value as a person based on her sexual appeal and for her, this appeal could only now be explored within the context of disability. This seems sort of self pitying to me. What do you think?
Now, I understand, this woman has had a shock! To go from an able-bodied life to one with impairment would be such a huge change, one that would take long to adjust to (for most). I come from a perspective that my impairment is completely and utterly normal – as I say all the time, I have no idea what it’s like to have two arms and two legs; to have to wear a prosthetic is completely rational for me, like having to wear clothes out in public. But I know people who had acquired their impairments without questioning their ability to appear sexually attractive to other people – whether these other people are able-bodied or disabled. I find that, in some ways, this woman was chosen to appear on the program because she fed into a stereotype – once able bodied, recently disabled, once sexually confident, now overtly sexual to “overcome” apparent deficiencies, and most visually disabled, in her wheelchair.
Here is my message to Cherry – please, please, please, expand your “prejudice” repertoire, you will never break through stereotypes if you continue to portray disability as something to be pitied (in this case because of a crisis of sex). Why not also address the imbalance on the media portrayal of disability as being a “wheelchair.” There are many people out there with disabilities in such a wide variety, with so many stories to tell – I believe you will address prejudice more successfully if you approached it from a new angle. Go broad Cherry, be game, be discerning in who you choose to address certain issues with, and most importantly, be true to those with disability – not everyone experiences their impairment as this, frankly, stereotyped woman does!
. . . .
Now, onto the other matter of dismal disability portrayal in the media. The other night I was sitting, innocently, watching tele when an ad popped up for insurance . . . I think (I was to amazed by what I saw in the ad to really take much notice of what they were actually selling). The ad came on and out popped a man in a wheelchair – so what?? you may ask. What bothered me was that the man was also wearing a prosthetic leg!!! Um, doesn’t the wheelchair and prosthetic cancel each other out, make the other redundant, seem completely illogical together???? As a prosthetic user I do not require a wheelchair (I do use a “glider chair” at home, but that is for when I want a day out of my prosthetic, I don’t use them mutually). It almost seemed as though having a man wearing a prosthetic leg wasn’t “disabled” enough for the ad, so they had to chuck him in a wheelchair as well. What is your take on this?
p.s. if I find out what the ad was for I will let you know.