For some reason, I’ve seen ableist attitudes about people who use wheelchairs come up a lot in my social media feeds recently, and this article about a robbery in the British town of Coventry brought them all together.
I guess The Mirror figured that the thieves in question resembled two characters from the British comedy sketch show “Little Britain”, one of which uses a wheelchair. I’ve heard of “Little Britain”, but I’ve never seen it, and I’m not familiar with any of the characters.
Whether the thieves in question actually intended to resemble “Little Britain” characters or not seems unclear from the article, but it’s not really important for the purposes of this piece anyway. The point that I want to make is that this article clearly shows two very problematic and ableist attitudes about people that use wheelchairs that, despite efforts to educate the public that they’re inaccurate, are still just far too commonly held.
Ableist Attitude #1: No One Who Uses a Wheelchair Can Stand
Obviously this particular writer for The Mirror wasn’t familiar with the uproar a few months ago when George Takei posted an ableist meme to his Facebook page, because I was far from the only blogger to write about the fact that a person that uses a wheelchair suddenly standing up is probably not:
- Experiencing a miraculous healing or
- Faking a disability.
Plenty of people who can stand and walk use wheelchairs. I was standing up from my wheelchair not even a couple of weeks into stroke rehabilitation. I walked short distances with my cane but used a wheelchair for long distances for about a year after I left stroke rehabilitation. The whole “Only paraplegics use wheelchairs and people who walk don’t use wheelchairs” is another one of those binary ways of viewing disability that ultimately holds disabled people back and keeps society from fully appreciating the ways that we can facilitate true inclusion.
Not to mention, it helps people to justify dangerous, deeply ableist attitudes. If your reaction to seeing someone in a wheelchair stand up is that they’re faking a disability, and you already share the general opinions of say, Rand Paul or Conservative politicians in England that there are are a whole bunch of people who receive disability benefits that don’t actually need them them…well, it doesn’t help our case when budget time comes around. And disabled people in Britain can’t afford to lose more than they already have to the “scrounger” narrative – the austerity measures that have come as a result of it have caused far too many deaths already.
Ableist Attitude #2: People Who Use Wheelchairs are “Wheelchair-Bound” or “Confined to a Wheelchair”
People who’ve looked at the Facebook page since Sunday saw something I posted that talked about this.
Wheelchairs don’t confine disabled people. They actually free those of us who use them. Like I said, I used a wheelchair for a year after my stroke when walking long distances was just too exhausting. In that year I was was still very unstable – much too unstable to go out in with my cane in the winter for even short walks unattended. I was pretty much housebound, except for the times that my father drove me places. But because I had my chair for long distances, I was able to go out of town every now and then and go shopping, go to a movie, have dinner in a restaurant…I was able to go to the Toronto Zoo with my family…I spent a great day touring Kingston (where I used to go university) with my sister and her friends…there were even plans to go to Canada’s Wonderland, a large theme park about two hours away. I never got to go, but my wheelchair would have made it possible for me to do so.
Wheelchairs make it possible for disabled people to work, volunteer, travel, play sports, dance, and do all manner of daredevil moves that I wouldn’t have dreamed of trying as as non-disabled person, let alone a wheelchair user. Here are some videos:
And this one…as Dave Hingsburger said about this video:
“Next time a reporter writes that someone is ‘confined to a wheelchair’ I want them to be duct taped to a chair and made to watch this. Maybe they will understand what ‘confined’ means when they are ‘confined’ and see the liberation that chairs offer.”
Editor of The Mirror, Meet Me at Camera Three
Let’s talk about wheelchairs and ableist attitudes: ‘Little Britain’ Thieves Hunted After Wheelchair-Bound Woman STANDS UP To Steal Food’
“…the apparently-disabled woman leaps up and steals packaged meat.”
“The charlatan stands up!”
I object to this both as a disability advocate and a writer.
The Mirror is a newspaper, and you should know better. If anything confines disabled people, it’s lack of accessibility and the attitudinal barriers perpetuated by articles like this one.
Your readers, disabled and non-disabled, deserve better.