When you’re a crip like me in his late twenties, you tend to look for guide posts for living a successful life. When I was school aged, I didn’t really think I’d make a credible 28 year old. I had no people with disabilities a generation older than me that could act as any type of role model. By then people of that age had either tragically passed, or were just satisfied at making it that far. None of them had suitable romantic relationships with anyone who wasn’t connected to the disability sector and none of them had a job they took pride in. A primary school kid like me viewed the age of 28 as a nominal figure where meaningful life stopped for however long until you dropped dead.
For the last 12 years I have had what most people considered to be impossible expectations for myself. It wasn’t enough to get a menial job working for a charity or a sheltered workshop like my crip peers wanted to. I instantly knew I was better than that. I wanted to be an intelligent person with a university qualification and in a loving relationship (with a person who was not disabled). And yet up until I entered university I knew of only one person with a disability who fitted that reasonably broad description. I saw (and continue to see) this as an enormous problem, because these goals are just average ones to have what I considered to be a meaningful life.
The community’s expectations for people with disabilities are far too low. During the first half of high school I coasted through, dicked around, was a surly grumpy bastard and was still looked upon as a 'role model'. Is it a coincidence that I had no crip one of my own? Even now in real terms I am yet to achieve anything above average, and I still carry the tag ‘role model’. If I chose to freeze frame my life to become a lazy bum who did not write another word, and sat around all day just relying on collecting DSP cheques I would still be looked upon by an outside observer as an ‘inspiration’. This is because once upon a time I deemed myself capable enough to try post graduate study. It is a fucking cop out. Given the tools I have at my disposal: an agile mind, a comfortable environment and a stable future I MUST do better than that regardless of physical disability. I must change the current social paradigm, perhaps the world in order to fully achieve my potential.
Too often the standard template for crip greatness is survival. This might be necessary for some, but what about those of us that need to be pushed, stirred and cajoled to ensure that we can achieve the best we can? There are very few crip role models that achieve what can be clumsily termed ‘standard greatness’: that is to be a true leader in their chosen field regardless of obvious physical disability. Perhaps most tellingly very few of those in this select group are actually humble about what they have achieved, consequently turning out to be dicks who should not be admired in any way, shape or form (See Kurt Fernley and Nick Vujicic). Even worse are those who don’t belong in this group and pretend that they do. I suppose they get offered the kool aid so regularly, they can no longer help but succumb to its sweet taste. They assume that they are super talented, because they achieve a standard career AND have a disability. In that case their disability is not just their inability to move around in an agile manner, it is that they have a giant head that far outweighs the rheteroic.
If those of you who don’t have a disability think I am being harsh, then you are part of the problem. Sure, give those who need encouragement to live their daily life kudos because they deserve it, but don’t pander to anyone. If you think someone is being a dick and skating by expecting life to come them because they are disabled, give them a kick up the arse and a reality check. This includes me. It is time to get real. Future crips need genuine role models, not also rans. Just like their able-bodied peers.