A Facebook friend had a post go viral, and I totally was able to relate to it. You can view it here. Like Cara, I used a scooter for several years, as my Spinal Muscular Atrophy progressed to the point where I could no longer walk. I cannot tell you how hurtful the responses I received, any time I stood up, moving to take a seat elsewhere were.
-wow that looks fun
-do you really need that thing?
-man, you’re so lucky you don’t have to walk, like the rest of us
-how lazy are you?
These responses are why many people with disabilities who fall into a gray area when it comes to mobility play down what physical abilities they do have. The amount of pressure to either be completely disabled or walk/move like everyone else is unbearable.
This is the original meme Cara posted about:
The image depicts a woman in a wheelchair, who has managed to stand while in front of a shelf of liquor at a store. The meme has the words…Alcohol makes miracles happen…on it.
My initial thought beyond how unfunny I thought the meme was related to how the able-bodied community would respond. Yes, this is a clear instance of oppression and ableism, but the ableist attitude goes even deeper into the notion of normalcy.
When we think about how society assumes disability affects a segment of its population, it is often presented that disability leads to people being viewed as less than, missing something or not normal. I think, while it is problematic to make jokes about a girl managing to stand to try and reach a high shelf, it is equally as problematic to view the insinuations that are reflected in the image.
What is more normal for young people today than buying alcohol? Not everybody does it, but enough people do it, that it is not a big deal to see. While I personally am not much of a drinker (I occasionally indulge with friends, but it’s not really my thing), a lot of people like it. Having a glass of wine with dinner is actually recommended for better health. We have no idea what kind of liquor this woman planned to purchase, as we simply see her standing near the shelf, but she hasn’t reached for anything. Regardless of her purchase, she looks to be over the drinking age, so why should she be mocked and/or condemned for doing something perfectly legal…something many young adults not in wheelchairs are doing?
Whether intentional or not, the creator of this meme opens up a broader question on people with disabilities being seen as “normal”. Whenever we see people with disabilities in situations people are uncomfortable with…in sexual situations, drinking, showing skin, there is an uncomfortableness. I believe it stems from the desire to infantilize people with disabilities. We’re inspirations. Adorable, little, squeezable cheeked, mentally child-like babies, who need to be protected, loved, and admired for our “courage” and “strength”. But that’s not who many of us really are. We’re adults with adult wants and adult needs.
Perhaps the broader question to this meme should be, “Why not?” Why do we have to make a joke about someone in a wheelchair standing up to get a bottle of liquor? Is it not just because she stands? Is it also because society finds it humorous to imagine a grown woman in a wheelchair just happens to want to buy alcohol? When I was in my early 20s, and could hold my own at the bar, so many guys would be amused at how much I could drink. They’d cheer me on because, “Hey look at that cripple guy drinking us under the table” (it was before my transition, so it was, “hey that cripple girl…” but I digress). Why is that funny? Why is that unexpected?
Is it not because we are deemed less, so therefore are capable of less…we want less? We desire differently?
The answer to this should always be, but we don’t. We are just like you. We have wants and needs. We can drink. We can dance. We can have a good time. We can have sex. We may or may not desire these things, just like anyone else.
So, leave the woman alone and let her get her alcohol in peace.
[tags]alcohol, meme, less than, disability, conversation, issue, able-bodied[/tags]