“That’s why God put you in that wheelchair,” an acquaintance tweeted. She was angry at a U.S. Representative from North Carolina, a Republican, Madison Cawthorn, who has used a wheelchair since a car accident. Cawthorn was posting support for the Trump crowd that met on the morning of January 6th, which would eventually violently attack the U.S. Capitol building.
It stung me.
I first became physically ill with an unknown illness when I was 13 years old. I suffered from extreme joint pain, severe fatigue, and over time, developed worsening cardiac symptoms. No doctor knew what was wrong with me, or they dismissed my concerns as “growing pains.” Sometimes they told me to stop being a “dramatic teenager.” By the time I was 18 and in college, I was in so much pain I was using a cane to attempt to get to my classes. only in 2019 did I learn, I had been bitten by an infected tick at 5 years old, and that it had triggered a damaging autoimmune response that had been allowed to progress my entire life.
Was God punishing me the same way as Madison Cawthorn, as my acquaintance said?
That’s not how disability works.
People like to pretend this is the case when referring to someone they don’t like. They prefer to think of sickness and disability as something that happens to “bad” people. Except, surprise! No one is guaranteed their health and a fully-functioning body. This becomes increasingly true with age. You could be in a car crash tomorrow. Next week, you could suddenly fall ill with an incurable, but nonfatal disease – one you’d have to live with.
It’s scary, especially for young people. I never really got to experience the confidence of a teenager who feels invincible, but my peers did. Most have never dealt with any physical health problems other than the occasional cold or strep throat. They don’t think about losing their body’s functionality. I never did either, as a young teenager. So, it’s easy for them to poke fun at those who seemingly did something to “deserve” it.
In 2020, Donald Trump became the subject of a large amount of mocking after a video emerged of him needing the assistance of a Secret Service official to walk steadily down a steep ramp. It was accompanied by a video of him with shaky hands, attempting to drink a glass of water. He needed both hands to steady the cup.
The mocking of him hurt, as well. You see, I sometimes need physical assistance to complete a task, too. Does that mean I am less than? Does that mean I deserve to be mocked? Donald Trump deserves the vitriol he gets, make no mistake, but because of his actions, his words, his terrible ideology, not for his physical ability level. Yet, it seems like, to the people who mock him, the worst thing about him is his diminished physical capabilities.
Think before you speak.
1 in 4 Americans is disabled. The chances that someone on your timeline, or in your life, has a disability, is high. Do you want to give the impression that you view them as less than, for something that they cannot control? Hopefully not.
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