One of the most difficult things that those of us with disabilities face in most any situation is the fact that the media often portrays any sort of challenge as “heroic”. The term used by many individuals with disabilities is “inspiro-porn” meaning that stories and other portrayals are usually framed with the notion that people with disabilities and the stories involving us are newsworthy, they’re “magical”, or something similar.
Luckily, I grew up with a twin sister who isn’t directly affected by any sort of challenge, so my disability was never shed in the “inspirational” light.
I’ll never understand why this story highlights the fact that this young man is now in a wheelchair to emphasize that he finished college. Finishing college is a wonderful milestone for anyone, regardless of their preferred method of mobility. Or why the fact that this senior in high school went to prom with a “crush, close friend” ends up on a CBS website. It’s 2014; if these stories are truly newsworthy, why are my parents, very normal, average, middle class folks, not being chased by the paparazzi as they travel to work each day? These people are normal people doing everyday things like going to prom and going to college, so why isn’t every person who goes to college or who goes to prom with a close friend interviewed by a national news outlet?
Take me, for example. I’m certainly excited, honored, and thrilled to be attending a nationally ranked university for graduate school. My program is even #17 in the nation. Does my excitement have anything to do with the fact that I’m going to be a graduate student with a disability living in Lexington, Kentucky and attending the University of Kentucky? I honestly haven’t even thought about it in that vein. I’m going to further my education, just like anyone, with or without a disability, would have the opportunity to do. Is the fact that I’m moving 400 miles from anything familiar a feat because I have a disability? No, it’s a feat because I haven’t known anything else in my nearly 24 years, save the fact that I went to college in a small, rural town about two hours away for four and a half years. I won’t lie and say that I haven’t found extreme comfort in the fact that there are over 1,000 students with disabilities at the University of Kentucky. I can say one thing for certain for each and every one of us: we aren’t attending school simply because we have disabilities. Iff anything, society would tell us, just as these “news stories” have implied, that it would be much easier for us to sit around and wait on the cameras. Instead, we choose to better ourselves, better our society, and better the futures of generations.
I don’t want media attention because I’m doing what people my age and in my stage of life are typically doing; I just want a smile. And I want people to recognize that it wasn’t any more difficult or easier for me to gain admission into my program. I want people to realize that the best recognition that they can give me is equality because, truthfully, I’m just living life.