North Texas Daily

The fetishization of disabled people is very real

The fetishization of disabled people is very real

The fetishization of disabled people is very real
March 27
09:00 2020

Miss Texas Wheelchair is a pageant meant to give representation to Texas women who have disabilities. Recently, a Denton resident won Miss Texas Wheelchair 2020 and winners of the pageant are granted the responsibility and privilege of being a spokeswoman by educating others about people with disabilities and to empower the disability community. Though the name might sound a bit crude at first read, Miss Texas Wheelchair serves as a beacon of good for a group that lacks proper representation. This is all good and well, but it then begs the question as to how people with disabilities are further portrayed in movies, television shows and other forms of media.

Picture an iconic villain in your mind. Who do you see? What do they look like? Let’s use the Joker from “The Dark Knight” as an example. This Joker has what is called a Glasgow smile which means he is cut from ear to ear. Though it’s not exactly as brutal of an injury akin to Harvey Dent, or Two Face, it is still a facial deformity that would probably terrify the average bystander. The scar makes Joker seem weathered, like he’s seen the worst of life and came out a different person than he was before. It makes him seem like much more of a threat to the hero because his image is twisted and doesn’t fit the status quo of what society thinks a person should look like.

Besides villainous portrayals in movies, how else are people with disabilities portrayed in media? Some people will say that there are plenty of good depictions of people with disabilities in media, but let’s look at the “good.” Inspirational posters are frequently hung up in schools, shared on social media and promoted on television. As a self-proclaimed inspirational poster lover, I get that they all carry the message that people should see the best in themselves.

People with disabilities who are featured in inspirational posters are often shown performing ordinary tasks like sports or learning. One poster shown in an article by The Mighty is a picture of a young boy with prosthetic legs running on a track with a quote by Scott Hamilton that reads, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” I also found an image of a young girl in a wheelchair with her prom date and a text over the image that reads, “He asked her to prom even in her condition! Like and share = Respect.” If you saw that on social media, would you be overwhelmingly inspired that you feel compelled to like and share that post?

It isn’t solving for Y to figure out that this is grade A “Inspiration Porn,” a term that was coined by former comedian and disability activist Stella Young. Unfortunately, these poor excuses for inspiration aren’t meant to inspire people with disabilities. Instead, they’re meant to serve as a tool to pull ourselves by the bootstraps and say, if they can do it then so can I. This then says that our expectations of people with disabilities are so low that we believe they aren’t capable or worthy of performing every day tasks or enjoying pleasures in life that able-bodied people do.

Media portrayals of people with disabilities bleeds over to real life and how able-bodied people treat them. When I was in middle school, there was a kid in my grade who was in a wheelchair and had a limited amount of movement in his hands and feet. He was well liked by other students, particularly kids inside the “popular” crowd. He was a great guy, but I wondered often how much of it was based on his personality and the intentions of the popular students who wanted to make themselves look like they were doing a service to him by being his friend.

Though I’m an able-bodied person and can’t fully address all issues that the disability community faces, I believe that society and media can do better in providing respectful representation of people with disabilities. They are human beings with a purpose and that purpose isn’t to “inspire” able-bodied people. People with disabilities should be judged based on their merit as a person and not to be treated like any less because people feel like they’re doing them favors.

Featured Illustration: Ryan Gossett

About Author

Adrian Maldonado

Adrian Maldonado

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1 Comment

  1. Dr. Jim
    Dr. Jim March 29, 00:46

    As a retired trial lawyer, North Texas Grad (1986), cripple, joker, actor, you should know that we are a people that are immune from racism and still laugh at the white-world who think they are so special. At leas, Denton is flat. I would love to teach in your political science department and work on legalizing pot. I did it here, in Oregon.

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