God loves you, you tried. When a group of Irish media personalities announced they were spending a day in a wheelchair to raise money for charity, they raised well-meaning reservations that they knew they couldn’t truly represent life as a wheelchair user.
I just count my blessings that I only do it for 24 hours, ”said broadcaster Lorraine Keane about the event.A Day in My Wheels’ Challengein which 25 non-wheelchair celebrities, business people and politicians spend the day in wheelchairs raising money for Spinal Injuries Ireland.
Why did I just make it clear that the participants are not wheelchair users? Because I shouldn’t need that. There should be enough real wheelchair users in public for us to assume they’re a celebrity if we see them in a wheelchair.
Perhaps the continued obliteration of actual wheelchair users is what causes people like Keane to worry that they are appropriating the noble sufferings of wheelchair users – but not their joys, envy, petty resentments, jokes, and all those other facets of the disabled Life that rarely comes to light in the Irish media.
Keane and other participants have already spoken in interviews about the wheelchair user friends they interviewed. Why stop at counseling? Maybe not these special friends if they don’t want to, but this could have been an excellent opportunity for the famous attendees to share their platforms with wheelchair users hoping to work in their field.
Representation does not matter, because disabled people only want to think of disability. It matters because we are complex people with a rich inner workings and ableism makes it harder to create.
Talking about disability is not what I want to do with my life. But I don’t have a choice. In order to be able to use the possibilities that I want, I have to explain myself again and again.
People who “don’t see autism” often find me rude or abrupt or cold or weird or lazy or stupid or broken. You may still think I am autistic, but chances are they are reviewing your prejudices. I “see autism” all the time. If you don’t wanna see it then you don’t wanna see me
I am not a wheelchair user myself, and no experience with a disability is interchangeable anyway – just as the experience of one non-disabled person is identical to that of the next non-disabled person. There will be some wheelchair users who will love this event and fully agree with the format. There will be others who find it annoying that celebrities can get so much praise for wearing someone else’s life like a costume.
Perhaps celebrity engagement will pique interest, but the superficial nature of the challenge will make it difficult to take “highlighting” seriously. People who are not used to using wheelchairs are poorly able to distinguish between rookie mistakes and problems with urban planning. It’s like filming a six-year-old’s first bike tour and discussing deficits in the urban cycling infrastructure. The right turn on Dame Street is, I would say, particularly fatal if attempted on a Barbie tricycle.
Spine Injuries Ireland is sponsoring a good cause. They hope to raise 100,000 euros to provide individual support to people with spinal cord injuries and their families. I hope they get the money together. The event would probably have been fine if it had taken place in a vacuum. But nothing happens in a vacuum.
Again and again the media representatives treat disabled people as a teaching aid for the audience. We are documentary filmmakers at best and zoo animals at worst. We are at the heart of a pity party. Alternatively, we are “inspirational” because we can do things.
Sometimes people tell me that they think my writing is impressive “considering” that I am autistic. I smile thank you and I feel like dirt.
Netflix show Love in the spectrum films autistic adults meeting while the non-autistic dating coach talks to them like children and their families laugh behind their backs. “When these losers find love”, the message seems to be, “the sky is the limit for all relative non-losers!” Where is the hot autistic portrayal, please, I am only a woman, I cannot do everything by myself.
Give money to wheelchair users to create whatever art they want. Reallocate resources and support until they are as likely as the next person to be a celebrity, politician, or businessman. The year is 2021. Baguette bags are back and with them the radical concept that people are allowed to speak for themselves.