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Disability Rights Need to Be Part of the Conversation

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I’m sure by now most people have seen the video that went viral of the little girl who has cerebral palsy climbing a stairwell with the handrail as the only help she used. I have mixed feelings about that video. While I think it is an incredible accomplishment that absolutely should be celebrated by her, her family, and all of their friends, I am afraid it sends the wrong message to some.

I feel that when that video went viral and became “inspiration porn” to millions of strangers, it did damage to a lot of other disabled people’s psyches. You see there are a lot of people who live with cerebral palsy along with millions of other disabled individuals who now may feel bad about themselves. Many disabled people will never be able to accomplish something so “miraculous.” But that does not make them any less valuable or inspirational.

Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be happier for that little girl, but when it is seen by millions of people who don’t have any firsthand experience with cerebral palsy, or any other disability, it can ultimately be harmful to others. I think it gives the impression to the uninformed that everyone with a disability can “overcome” that disability and do things they simply cannot do. And what happens to that little girl’s mental health if she is unable to do that ever again?

I wish society would stop celebrating when a disabled individual is seen doing something without any aids in a largely inaccessible world. In an ideal world, we would be making the world more accessible to those with disabilities instead of celebrating a disabled person’s ability to navigate in a world where only the bare minimum accommodations are made for us.

I spent many years fighting off the need for mobility aids. I will admit that I was extremely stubborn and put my own safety after the need to fit in and try to not be (or at least not look) disabled. I am now a full-time wheelchair user and am trying to live my best life while in a wheelchair, and also living during a global pandemic. I am fairly certain there will never be a video of me climbing a stairwell with no help. But I am finally OK with that.

It took me many years to finally accept that this is my life. Now that I have accepted it, I have become acutely aware of just how inaccessible this world is. With the passing of the ADA, many companies have done the bare minimum required by law to accommodate disabled individuals. That was passed 30 years ago and it’s time to update it.

An example of this is a restaurant I went to that had stairs leading to the front door. I called ahead to ask if they had an accessible entrance for wheelchairs and was told there was a ramp to the back door that I could use. My guess is the only reason they had this ramp was for deliveries as there was a very small landing at the top of the ramp to access a very heavy door that opened out. Think about that, I was on a very small landing trying to open a very heavy door that opened out. Once I was able to get my wheelchair into the backroom of the restaurant, I had to navigate an obstacle course to get to the dining room. Like most restaurants, the backroom and hallway to the front were littered with deliveries and unused supplies and furniture. And this is acceptable according to the law.

Since a lot of the narrative these days is about human rights, I will do what I can to ensure that disability rights are part of the conversation. Absolutely no human should be made to feel like they simply don’t matter or are invisible. Make no mistake about it, disability rights are human rights!

Getty image by Raul Mellado.

Originally published: September 7, 2020
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