Lorraine Keane, the IFTA-nominated Irish broadcaster and journalist, is among the celebrities, politicians and business people that participated in an event named “A Day In My Wheels” which was created by Sean O’Kelly, a Disabled Rights campaigner from Ireland, to raise awareness about the inaccessibility and social issues wheelchair users face on a daily basis with an aim to improve the lives of 40,000 wheelchair users.
Whilst this event was created with good intentions, Keane posted an IGTV video to Instagram describing her experience, which has been causing upset and anger within the disabled community. Keane broke down in tears during her emotional ten-minute speech starting out by saying, “I can not tell you how relieved I am to get out of that wheelchair.”
The world wasn’t built with disabled people in mind, and because of that, we live in an inherently ableist world. Ableism characterizes people who are defined by their disabilities as inferior to the non-disabled. We are reminded of this by Keane’s experience, but most of all by her reactions. She communicated her 24hrs using a wheelchair as “horrific” and Keane posted the video without captions, this again is a great example of the lack of accessibility that disabled people face. Keane is just one example of a vast number of non-disabled people who want to support the disabled community but fall into stereotypical perceptions and approaches.
One of those stereotypical approaches is “pity porn” which suggests that disabled people’s existence is something to commiserate, rather than putting the attention on the systemic and societal issues. Pity porn often shows disabled people at their worst in an effort to raise money. Disabled people have been fighting for many years for equitable access and justice. Oftentimes Disabled people are overlooked when campaigning for Disability rights but when celebrities make performative efforts or raise money for charities they are celebrated. Raising money is important in certain cases, but the real change will only happen when Disabled people are heard, put at the centre of conversations, and given rights over charity.
It is sometimes thought that if non-disabled people simulate a Disabled person’s experience, for instance using a wheelchair for a day, wearing a blindfold for a few hours, or using noise-cancelling headphones, the non-disabled person will gain more empathy but new research published by Michelle Nario-Redmond, PhD, professor of psychology shows role-playing disability promotes distress, discomfort and disinterest. “For those who are curious about disability issues, take the time to visit people [with disabilities] and lots of them. Get to know their diverse interests and accessibility concerns and ask how you can be an ally for disability rights,” says Nario-Redmond in Science Daily.
A common theme that came up in the comments section on Keane’s video was the freedom that disabled people get from their wheelchair and other mobility devices.
Gem Hubbard (@WheelsNoHeels_), a Digital Creator and arguably one of the top Disability Lifestyle creators, says “She [Keane] is raising awareness of a spinal cord injury charity. However many of us SCI survivors will tell you, being paralysed; not able to work, and using a wheelchair is just one element to injury.” Gem follows on to say, “She’s put out a message which we have been fighting so hard to change for decades! By doing this without us, it’s causing more harm than good.” Gem says “[I hope] that now she will take the information she has learnt spread more awareness and help Sean O’Kelly get his message out there so that changes can be made.”
Original posted at www.forbes.com