Fellow gimp Ben Mattlin wrote a thoughtful Times op-ed piece about Justin Bieber, perceptions of disability, and playing the disability card. He notes that Bieber was recently photographed using a wheelchair at Disney World and suggests that this may be a sign that visible disabilities are losing some of their stigma. He then reminisces about the special treatment he received as a child because of his disability, like getting into movies for free. It’s a common life experience for those of us who grew up with a disability and like Mattlin, I now look back on those experiences with a degree of ambivalence. I definitely exploited my disability for my own ends as I was growing up, but I probably reinforced stereotypes about disability in the process.
I like to think that I’m a more enlightened person now; one who demands equal treatment and steadfastly refuses any preferential treatment rooted in pity or condescension. But if I’m honest with myself, I know that I might slip on occasion. I might accept a seat upgrade at a concert or the opportunity to avoid a line at an amusement park. Because sometimes a crip just wants a better sightline that isn’t full of legs and asses. Or because I just won’t feel like being SuperCrip, Defender of Virtuous Principles, at that particular moment.