Cuteness Fades

Scrolling through social media news feeds I see pictures of the cliche college dorm room with floral tapestries covering the walls, ironic political rants, and gushy anniversary posts, and then I see a video of a “poor little disabled kid” attempting to play tee ball. His baseball hat shields his eyes and his walker falters as he recklessly swings a hollow plastic bat. He hits the ball about four times only for it to plummet to the ground. People can view this from their cracked tablet screens, cell phones, and computers and conveniently repost it in hopes of improving a friend’s day with the “can-do” spirit of this “little warrior.” Conversely, when I see these videos, I impulsively scroll past them, and sometimes I peek at some of the comments people write. They typically write sappy posts along the lines of “What an inspiration,” or “What a little fighter,” and while most people may think nothing of these comments, they highlight a social issue that has always existed–disabled people are used as sources of inspiration when young, but as we grow older, we are not as cute or little. Wheelchairs are wider and more powerful; when kids are young, their parents can tote wheelchairs around as casually as they would strollers, but as age creeps up, young adults must be independent and if they cannot push their own chairs, they need expensive power chairs that pose transportation challenges. A thirty year old buzzing around in a power chair does not possess the same connotation as a ten year old struggling to push a manual chair in circles; it is not cute. Needing assistance to cut up food when a person is twenty-five is not the same as needing assistance to cut up food at five. Disabled people are seen as dependent or burdens for requiring help to do simple tasks. As I go off to college, my mother will no longer help me shower and dress myself; a personal care attendant (PCA) will. This transition may seem minuscule, yet many disabled people face challenges when PCAs do not show up on time, there is a miscommunication, or insurance does not cover the cost of a PCA; therefore, not only does a disabled person have to worry about tuition, housing fees, and meal plans, but also personal care attendants. This is not cute; it is a bleak reality. As Kathleen Downes, author of The Squeaky Wheelchair wrote in her blogpost “Growing up is Weird: On Being 22 and Still Disabled,” “I am an adult. I am not as cute and cuddly as a toddler…the societal barriers constructed for adults with disabilities make it a challenge..We do […not] stop existing after childhood,” additional fees such as the cost of PCAs are financially straining to adults with disabilities. Downes sheds light on the economic struggles of living with a disability poignantly, and there are social issues that need to be brought up as well. Someday, that little boy featured in the video will be a young man, and people will view him differently. His high school friends may abandon him to go ice skating, his high school crush may not take him seriously because he is a “cripple.” His crush may even accept his invitation to prom out of pity or supposed kindness. When he is a grown man, people may not help him if he falls, or perhaps they will help him even when he asks them not to. He may struggle to find a career with an accessible location. If he stutters people may ignore him or talk over him. Noone will see him as cute when he complains about these realities; everyone will chide in response, “That’s life,” and “Join the club.” Instead of caring about the challenges of people disabilities and the prejudices they continually face, people post “inspiration” for a brief moment. Disabilities are far from cute, glamorous, or inspiring, but they are also not objects of pity. People need to realize that disabled people live like everyone else does: they go to grocery stores, they go to school, they have jobs/careers, they like to travel, they have families and friends, yet in other ways they face challenges that their able-bodied counterparts do not face: questionable accessibility, additional costs of living, and the social stigma attached to disabilities. Calling them inspirational is putting a barrier between the “disabled world” and the “able-bodied world.” It is painting disabled people as cartoonish rather than real. Rather than labeling someone as inspirational, see him as a human being trying to live like everyone else.


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