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Challenging jokes & stereotypes misdefining disability: Part I

For all the progress we have made as a society, many Americans still fundamentally misunderstand the disability community and disability itself. This is evident in many ways, including how disability is portrayed online in internet “memes.”

The issue was recently discussed in an article in Slate magazine, where author Scott Jordan Harris discusses two types of disability-related memes that he despises: Those meant to poke fun at disabled individuals who are supposedly “faking it” and those meant to highlight disability as a means of inspiration to the able-bodied.

One of the most popular disability memes making its way around the internet is a picture of a woman in the liquor aisle of a grocery store. Although she apparently uses a wheelchair to get around, she can be seen standing up to reach a bottle higher up on the shelf. The snarky caption on the picture reads: “There has been a miracle in the alcohol isle.” [Misspelling of aisle in the original].

This joke is offensive to many in the disability community, and rightly so. Harris notes that the comedy is rooted in at least two false assumptions. The first is that individuals who rely on a wheelchair must need it all the time in order to truly be disabled. If they can stand up, according to the assumption, they are “faking it.”

There are certainly individuals who rely on a wheelchair 100 percent of the time. But there are many others with limited mobility who can stand and walk for short distances. Mobility and independence – even if very limited – is something to be celebrated, not mocked.

The other false assumption in the meme is that there is something wrong about individuals with disabilities enjoying alcohol. The woman in the picture is clearly an adult and should not be judged for buying a bottle of alcohol simply because she relies on a wheelchair at least part of the time.

Please check back later this week as we continue our discussion.

Source: Slate, "Despicable Memes," Scott Jordan Harris, Aug. 13, 2014

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