I’m sure you all have seen it. Something unbelievable has occurred. A person without a disability helped a person with a disability. This week on Buzzfeed, there has been quite a lot of… well, buzz, about a McDonald’s employee stopping to help a man with a power wheelchair cut his food in Chicago. A young girl, Destiny Carreno, proceeded to photograph the event, and as of today it has more than 250,000 “shares” in cyberspace. The Internet is lighting up with lots of “ooohs,” “ahhs,” and “that’s inspirationals!” Ask me what I think. Please do. And I’ll tell you this isn’t news. Not news. Not news. Will never be news.
Don’t misunderstand me. Kindness is a great thing. Acts of kindness make the world go ‘round. But just because the receiver of kindness is disabled, it doesn’t mean that this should be viewed as anything other than ordinary. Putting able-bodied people on a pedestal for showing kindness to disabled person makes it seem as though we are meant to be ignored, ostracized, or forgotten unless an able-bodied person feels like paying attention to us. What’s more is that Carreno photographed the scene without permission, and posted it for all to ogle at as though the disabled man were a museum piece, an exhibition used to earn “likes.” In all the news coverage, the employee is identified as Kenny. And the disabled man? Has no name. It is unnerving that in the year 2015, able-bodied people are still given excessive praise for showing disabled people basic civility. In stories like these, which make a spectacle of the daily lives of disabled people for the sake of a “feel good” moment, archaic attitudes of pity and paternalism are allowed to persist.
When we sanctify others for helping people with disabilities, we reveal the saddening truth that authentic inclusion remains the exception and not the expectation in our society. True inclusion happens quietly. There is no fanfare. There are no cameras. There are only people, who support each other because that is the way a community works. Articles like the one about Kenny, on the surface, seem to show how “far we have come.” Upon closer inspection, however, the fact that a story like this is considered news only shows how far we have to go.
People with disabilities are not nameless, faceless commodities that exist to make others feel good. We do not exist to be passive recipients of help, or to be the benchmark for your compassion. And if simply being with us is the making of a news article, then inclusion…or even basic generosity, is still too rare for comfort. And let it be known, once and for all, that disabled people can give help too. So, before you click “like”, consider this. Perhaps this man with a disability only wanted to eat his lunch. Perhaps Kenny only wanted to help him out, and thought of his decision as nothing remarkable. And then consider this. What a remarkable world it would be if people with disabilities were counted as neighbors, friends, parents, siblings, employees, sons and daughters who deserve to belong at all times, and not just when the media needs a “touching” video. Events like these should be so ordinary that onlookers yawn and go back to trying out Instagram filters on photos of their food. We’re not specimen. We’re not fodder for your service project or objects you can use to prove your own morality. If you want to feel warm inside, get a cup of coffee. There’s plenty to go around at McDonald’s.
Author's note: If you need the context of the news article, please Google it on your own. I figure it's best not to provide a direct link, in order to not further contribute to the vast number of people participating in the consumption of inspiration porn.