Here at The Nest, we’ve talked a lot about how people with disabilities are not inspirational just because they do ordinary things (as Stella Young said, getting out of bed in the morning and remembering their own names). Fairly recently, we also talked about how the disability movement needs to stop martyring parents and caregivers. We need to stop focusing on how stressful and painful it is to be involved in a PWD’s life–because oftentimes, it isn’t. We need to stop martyring parents and caregivers for doing their jobs.
But there’s also something else we need to stop doing to parents and caregivers. They aren’t martyrs, but neither are they heroes. Yet, the traditional way of looking at disability says different. I bet you guys have seen social media posts, Pinterest pins, and general axioms that say stuff like this:
- Special needs parents move mountains.
- I’m an autism mom/dad. What’s your superpower?
- ____ DISABILITY MOM (written across a superhero crest, a la Superman)
- Brilliant, brave, determined, badass ninja: Because “special needs parent” is not a job title.
- Special needs _____ (parents/teachers/caregivers) are heroes/my heroes
Come on. Can we cut the bull? Because that’s what this is. It’s bull. Yeah, I know; statements like these are meant to make people feel good. I get it. The question is, who feels good when they hear or see these statements? Who do they benefit–and who do they not?
You got it: the parents, caregivers, and teachers feel good. They feel wonderful, and why shouldn’t they? They’re being called heroes. They are being compared to freaking SUPERMAN (or whichever your favorite hero is). But why? You got it again: because they are doing their jobs.
I’m gonna keep this short and blunt. Parents, caregivers, teachers, aides, therapists–whatever your job title is, you do not deserve a medal, a cash bonus, or a cookie for doing it. You do not get extra credit because the person you love, care for, or work with has a disability. You do not get to paint yourself as a saint for loving that person, and the rest of the world shouldn’t, either. You are not a saint. You are not Superman or Wonder Woman. You are not a tower of strength and patience. You are a regular person doing a job.
“Hey, Chick,” you might tell me, “you’re being awfully hard on these parents and caregivers. Their jobs are hard. When was the last time you saw a parent put a diaper on a fifteen-year-old with no bladder and bowel control? Have you spent more than a minute in a special ed classroom? Where do you get off?”
Okay, I’ll answer that, because it’s a fair question. I’m not discounting that a parent, caregiver, or aide’s job is difficult at times. I’m not disputing the fact that therapists, special education teachers, whoever, have to go through more than their “general” counterparts. I’m not saying these people shouldn’t be praised. What I am saying is that to constantly praise these people for doing what millions of other parents, caregivers, and teachers do every day, is based on a lie. It sets us back in terms of disability rights and seeing PWDs as equal people.
I have read testimonials and articles that speak to this. In these testimonials, parents describe their children expressing, verbally, through writing, or otherwise, that they are confused. They wonder, why is Mom or Dad a hero for loving me? They ask themselves, why is Miss Susie from preschool or Mr. Andrews in my science class a hero for giving me an education? Adults with disabilities are asking, why is my boss considered heroic for hiring me? Am I not lovable enough, smart enough, worthy of a job, or worthy of an education?
Our mouths say yes, these people are worthy–but our actions say no. Parents seek respite care for their kids and teens, whether or not it’s appropriate, because of the “constant stress” of dealing with disability. Teachers and employers complain about the time and effort it takes to educate and hire PWDs–and that’s if those things even happen. Too many times, teachers, employers, and specialists fall back on the segregated model of disability, so that dealing with disability is easier for them. And then, consciously or not, they accept the role of saintly hero for doing it.
Guys, what are we doing? Really, honestly. WHAT are we doing?
I’ll tell you what we’re doing. We’re using the hero concept, the inspiration concept, the ____ (fill in the faulty disability construct) concept as a way to objectify PWDs for our benefit. Of course, we’d never say that and consciously we’d never do it. At least, most of us wouldn’t (and those who would need to be slapped). But that’s where we are. Anything that paints a temporarily able-bodied person who is involved in the life of a PWD in any way, as a hero, is a form of inspiration porn. It is thought pornography. It is emotional pornography. Stella Young called it “porn” because of its objectifying nature, and she nailed it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if we don’t use a certain construct for people without disabilities, why are we using them for people with them? Teachers, would you want to be considered heroic for educating TAB children? Parents, do you want to hear, “God bless you/you’re a hero/I couldn’t do what you do” just for raising and loving a typical child? So what is going on when we do it to PWDs?
Sometimes, the actions of parents, caregivers, and other people in the lives of persons with disabilities are heroic. Most of the time though, they’re great, but ordinary. Let’s remember that and put away the capes.