The Problem With Those Prom Stories About People With Disabilities


It’s that time of year again. The sun begins to feel warm again. The snow melts. The birds start singing.  The days get longer. The air smells like rain and thunderstorms. And millions of teens make grand gestures, plan after-parties, buy dresses and rent tuxes and limos, all in preparation for prom.

The ringing in of prom season means we will soon be regaled with the retelling of a few stories in which upstanding young men and women ask a person with some type of noticeable disability to the dance of a lifetime. The stories will spread like wildfire through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, with compassionate, well-meaning people making happy comments, clicking the thumbs up or the heart, and praising the young adult’s parents for raising a thoughtful human being.

On the surface, it is all warm and fuzzy, and I do commend the young people and their parents for understanding that people are simply people regardless of their ability. And yet, the nationalizing of these stories irks me to no end. My husband has had the pleasure of hearing more than one angry rant of mine in direct response to these heart-warming stories.

Why? Because I believe it’s subtly dehumanizing. It shouldn’t be national news that a person with a disability gets asked to prom. And it’s incredibly hypocritical. On the one hand, the masses are affirming and praising the fact that a neurotypical individual can see past the neurodiversities of another and “treat them just like anyone else.” On the other hand, the mere fact that they are praising this and calling such national attention to the act presupposes that it takes some type of gallant, noble personality to actually see the individual with a disability as a regular person. Doesn’t this presume that differently-wired people are not regular people?

By spotlighting the young man or woman and praising them for being so thoughtful, doesn’t it send the message that people with disabilities are so different and less-than that it’s amazing they get asked at all? Or that they get recognized on a basketball team? Or that they have friends stick up for them in front of bullies? Why is this national news? Shouldn’t it simply be expected?

Seriously, if society really stood behind the belief that people with disabilities should be treated like anyone else, wouldn’t the headline read, “Boy asks girl to prom?”

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Photo via Thinkstock.

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