This morning I presented a paper on the medical industrial complex at the “Cripples, Idiots, Lepers, and Freaks: Extraordinary Bodies / Extraordinary Minds” Conference at CUNY. Focused on representations of disability in Science Fiction, my panel also featured two tremendous papers presented by Eric Wallenstein (Texas University) and Jeffry Iovannone (SUNY Buffalo). Some early highlights of this conference so far was hanging out with Dr. Beth Haller (writer of this great book on disability and media) and Dr. Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (whom the conference was titled after). I also got to meet one of my person heroes, Simi Linton, which was amazing.
I totally forgot about this day until I went through some of my old blog posts from last year. It was just too funny not to repost.
Given the warming weather and the arrival of my brand new wheelchair, my friend Dan (a fellow “crip”) and I decided to take our chairs out for a spin along the paths following the Thames River and check out Springbank Park. Driving along the path and taking in the sights, everything seemed to be going perfectly until we began running into people on the path.
Having spent my entire life in a chair, I don’t even notice the sidelong glances anymore and occasionally the seemingly obligatory “You’re going to get a speeding ticket” jest, but never in my life have I ever elicited such a response from such a broad number of people. Literally everyone we passed had something to say, whether it was a simple hello or perhaps some deeper commentary on the apparent hilariousness of two guys in wheelchairs out for a walk. One wheelchair is enough to elicit a stare, but apparently two chairs were just too tempting! I think it’s something like kryptonite to walkies. We even had one child question “Hey, are you old?” as we passed and a little later two children accosted us, bellowing “Hey, you don’t need wheelchairs, get out of there!” It was hands down one of the strangest occurrences of my life.
Generally speaking, people in wheelchairs are far from the norm in our society and while I see more and more people out and about in their chairs, it is still within the realm of possibility that someone could go their entire life without ever really interacting with someone in a wheelchair. It’s safe to assume that, at least in part, this limited contact tends to bring on the stares and the comments, as everyone loves to gawk at things that are strange and foreign to us.
Growing up I used to always get mad at parents who would chastise their children for staring at me, especially for berating the ones bold enough to ask me a question about the chair. While I can appreciate that the parents are simply trying to be polite, I think it’s important to open up a discourse and educate these children on disability so perhaps they won’t discourage their children for being intrigued and friendly in the future. By talking to people directly and openly about disability, we can help demystify the entire process, which will do more to normalize disability than any blog post ever could.