When I was in high school, there was one person with a physical disability who I absolutely one hundred percent admired. This was someone who, at first sight, I knew I wanted to emulate, dress like and even mimic to the point of embarrassment. I basked in this person’s confidence, their ability to persuade people was remarkable, there was no room for self pity and the fact that this person was out to save the world was a plus too. He was perfect.
He was Professor X. As in the comic book super hero from The X-Men.
When you are physically disabled, it’s exceedingly hard to find someone with a disability who not only you can relate to but also someone who is remarkable in spite of their disability and not because of their disability.
As a society, we are still getting this very very wrong. Most of the media stories which cover individuals with physical impairments are still human interest stories, hung up on getting the diagnosis right and figuring out the politically correct way of labelling someone as being impaired. You should admire X because they are disabled, just like you, was the message that was always sent to be. Never mind I might not respect them, or agree with them on a single issue. Sure, they might sing sappy inspirational Christian music and I wanted to be a raunchy stand up comedian known for a great body and twisted sense of humour. But we were both disabled and therefore exactly alike.
Nobody cares that Professor X sits in a wheelchair. It’s a detail that helps develop his character, and at times it’s used as a plot device to move the story along, but we are never told that Professor X is a superhero because he’s disabled. He’s a superhero because of his remarkable capabilities, because of the heroism he inspires in his students, because of his amazing wisdom and ability to see people where they are. All of those qualities should be admired and together they paint his disability exactly as it should be, unimportant.
I long for the day that young people with disabilities have a vast range role models the can relate to, not because these people are disabled and therefore “like us,” but because they are rich an valuable members of society who are making our world a better place. In short, people who are superheroes for all the right reasons. I’m still waiting.
Because its a brave new world out there. Every Day.