Lorraine Keane, the IFTA nominated Irish broadcaster and journalist, is among the celebrities, politicians and business people who attended an event called “A Day In My Wheels” hosted by Sean O’Kelly, an activist for human rights with disabilities from Ireland. Raising awareness of the inaccessibility and social problems wheelchair users face on a daily basis with the aim of improving the lives of 40,000 wheelchair users.
While this event was launched with good intentions, Keane posted an IGTV video on Instagram describing her experiences that have caused a stir and anger in the disabled community. Keane burst into tears during her ten-minute emotional speech and began by saying, “I can’t tell you how relieved I am to get out of this wheelchair.”
The world was not built for people with disabilities, and therefore we live in an inherently ableist world. Ableism characterizes people who are inferior to the non-disabled due to their disabilities. We are reminded of this by Keane’s experiences, but most of all by her reactions. She communicated her 24 hours in a wheelchair as “awful” and Keane posted the video without subtitles. Again, this is a great example of the lack of accessibility that disabled people face. Keane is just one example of a large number of non-disabled people who want to support the disabled community but fall into stereotypical perceptions and approaches.
One of these stereotypical approaches is “pity porn”, which suggests that the existence of disabled people is something to be pityed about instead of drawing attention to the systemic and societal problems. Pity porn often shows disabled people in their worst form to raise money. Disabled people have been fighting for equal access and justice for many years. Often times, people with disabilities are overlooked when advocating for the rights of people with disabilities, but when celebrities engage in performative efforts or raise money for charities, they are celebrated. Raising money is important in certain cases, but real change will only come when disabled people are heard, put at the center of conversation, and given rights through charity.
It is sometimes believed that when non-disabled people simulate the experience of a disabled person, a new study by Michelle Nario-Redmond, PhD, professor of psychology, shows that role-playing disabilities promote stress, discomfort, and disinterest. “For those interested in disability issues, take the time to visit people [with disabilities] and lots of them. Learn about their diverse interests and concerns about accessibility and ask how you can be an ally for the rights of people with disabilities, “Nario-Redmond says in Science Daily.
A wheelchair user rolls down a busy pedestrian crossing under invisible disabled pedestrians
A common topic that came up in the comments on Keane’s video was the freedom disabled people enjoy from their wheelchairs and other mobility aids.
Gem Hubbard (@WheelsNoHeels_), a digital creator and arguably one of the greatest creators of the disabled lifestyle, says, “She [Keane] draws attention to a spinal cord injury charity. However many of us SCI survivors will tell you that we are paralyzed; unable to work and using a wheelchair is only one contributing factor to injury. ”Gem adds,“ It spread a message that we have fought so hard for decades! If we do this without ourselves, it does more harm than good. “Gem Says”[I hope] that she will now use the information she has learned to raise awareness and help Sean O’Kelly get his message across so that changes can be made. “