When physicist Stephen Hawking died of ALS earlier this year, the BBC published a timeline of his life. Even in the face of his “debilitating illness,” the timeline explained, he was “one of science’s great popularisers.” The article lauded his ability to train his mind “to work in a new way,” which allowed him to escape “the limits of his disability.” These ought not to be controversial statements. But to “ableism” activists, these comments (and comments like them) are a terrible affront to the “disabled community.”
“Other media inaccurately described Hawking as being ‘confined to a wheelchair,’ even though wheelchairs allow many disabled users to be mobile, independent and active members of their communities,” writes Wendy Lu at Everyday Feminism “That same week, actress Gal Gadot was blasted for tweeting that Hawking was now ‘free from physical constraints.'”
Disability, it turns out, is not something to be lived with, overcome, or worked around, it’s an identity, and it must be celebrated.
The definition of “ableism” actually has nothing to do with the celebration of disability. It is simply the term for “discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities” — which I think we can all agree is something we should strive to avoid. (I mean, I’m not sure we need a whole “ism” for it. It probably falls under the category of, say, being respectful, kind, and polite to others. But we all know the SJWs love a good “ism.”) So if, for example, Sam has a stutter and orders a cup of coffee at Starbucks, he should have a reasonable expectation of not receiving a cup with “SSSAM” written on it (something that actually happened earlier this month).
But, of course, our pals the SJWs just can’t leave well enough alone. If there’s a group of people who aren’t being grouped together and identified solely by superficial characteristics, well by golly they’re going to make them group together and identify themselves solely by superficial characteristics — and those people are going to like it. Otherwise they’re not real SJWs.
Stephanie Woodward, the director of advocacy at the Center of Disability Rights, says, “There’s a common assumption that people with disabilities all have a desire to or need to be cured.” Wendy Lu, of Everyday Feminism, says that disability is “a complex identity.” Lu is “proud, like many people, to be disabled” and feels rejected “as a person” when people suggest that her life would be “better” without her disability. In other words, being disabled is, apparently, a good thing. To Wu, and others like her, Stephen Hawking’s ALS was not a tragedy — his major intellectual feats weren’t accomplished in spite of it — it was who he was. In fact, maybe we should be sorry that we don’t have ALS too!
Now, I am not a disabled person so maybe I need to “check my privilege” here, but the idea that a person who can’t walk wouldn’t choose to walk again if given the option seems ridiculous to me. Would Stephen Hawking have chosen to keep his ALS if given the choice to be cured? It seems unlikely. It shouldn’t be prejudiced to assume that a person might want to partake in the full range of human abilities — or that they would feel limited if they could not.
“Ableism” activist website StopAlbeism.org calls an “ableist society” one that holds “non-disabled individuals as the standard of ‘normal living.’” But surely not being disabled is the standard? If eyes, for example, are meant for seeing with, and your eyes aren’t able to see things, then your eyes don’t work. Working eyes is the standard for eyes. It makes sense that our society would be built on the assumption that people’s eyes work — as long as we have strategies and supports for people whose eyes happen not to work. And a person who, for example, is able to paint beautiful pictures even though he is blind, is doing that in spite of his disability.
Insisting that “disabled” is an identity necessitates that a person be defined by his disabilities. Instead of fighting for a society in which disabled people aren’t assumed to be inferior human beings, SJWs now want us to see disability as a part of who a disabled person is. But which is it? Should we stop discriminating against people because of their disabilities? Or should a person’s disabilities define who they are? Logic, as we all know by now, is not the SJWs’ forte. Perhaps that is their disability.