I do not look like a hero if you ask me. I don’t have any magical powers. A cape would get caught in my wheelchair. It takes me a half an hour to get the milk and pour it into a cup, and my attempts to get a comic book written about me have proven fruitless. However, in certain circles, it seems that people think me to be heroic. I was recently rolling on campus with some new friends who also use powerchairs when we were stopped by a nun who excitedly informed us that we were her heroes and it “was so cool to see us”. While I am glad to bring light to someone else’s day, I cannot understand what about a person in a wheelchair doing ordinary things is so inspiring. I was not out rescuing a cat from a tree, giving CPR to a dying person, or making an intellectual breakthrough. I was out getting ice cream… at 8:30. I can only imagine the legion of media coverage we would have attracted had we been getting ice cream in the dark.
I know that people mean well when they tell us we're inspiring. But intentions aside, putting people with disabilities on a pedestal for doing regular things indicates a serious problem of low expectations. Heroes are people who do something unexpected, extraordinary. I should not be considered a hero for doing ordinary things that everyone has the right to do. If society does not expect me to leave my house to get ice cream, then therein lies the problem. Just like those without disabilities, a girl going to the grocery store in a wheelchair should be just as unexciting as a girl going to the grocery store on her own two feet. Calling a person in a wheelchair a hero for getting up in the morning reinforces the stereotype that we as people with disabilities should be bitter, angry, couch-dwelling hermits. I have been known to sit on the couch and kill a bag of chips every now and again, but just like able-bodied people, my expectation is that yes, I will leave the house, go to school, hang out with my friends, or go shopping in a thoroughly uninteresting way. And I hope that one day the notion of any of this being inspiring will be laughable.
I can't wait to have a deathday party for the piles of memes that applaud disabled people for existing. If we are given prizes for existing, the world is allowed to assume yet again that our quality of life must be terrible, when in reality I am very satisfied with things as they are. Furthermore, when society stops believing that disabled people doing things with their lives are the exception and not the rule, the proper supports will be there because we expect them to be and not be there as a special project for “special” people. Real, meaningful inclusion can exist only when society stops treating the success of a disabled person as though it happened by chance or exceptional courage. Success happens when people are given support and included without fanfare, and given the opportunity to join the ranks of ordinary successful people who go forward with their lives.
If I am to be inspiring, I want to be inspiring because of my skills or talents, because of the unique mark I leave on this world. Measure me by the same standard as my walking counterparts. If I go to school and get a job, raise a family, and have my own place, allow me to be just a person engaged in everyday life, if I create a masterpiece someday that would be inspiring by any (wo)man’s standard, then we can talk. Until that day, when I wake up in the morning and roll off to class, think to yourself, “how unoriginal. It’s like she does it everyday or something.” And don't think for a minute that the life I live is something you couldn't handle. If one day you found yourself in my seat, you would be amazed at how natural the choice to go forward felt… because going forward is what living people do.