With news of Jerry Lewis’s death flying around on Social Media, I became aware of his statement, “[If] you don’t want to be pitied as a cripple in a wheelchair, stay in ya home” through a tweet from Emma Ladau. Regardless of context, this kind of thinking makes me sadder than I can express.
I was born with a physical disability and have spent several years of my life in a wheelchair. Does that make me deserving of pity? Yes, disability has been a part of my life and will be forever. There’s nothing I can do to change that. While disability is part of my identity, it is not the only thing that makes me who I am.
When I think of what defines me, the first things that pop into my head is that I value friends and family above everything, I’m a Literature fan, and that I’m doing what I love. Only after all those things do ‘disabled’ or ‘wheelchair-user’ make an appearance. Yes, being a wheelchair-user comes with some challenges but life is full of them. Should one be pitied because they have challenges when, if we’re honest, everyone has challenges of their own? I think not.
Because of the fact that I was born with a disability, my disability and my wheelchair by extension, cannot be removed from my identity. That said, it is true that some people do see disability (particularly physical ones as they are often the most visible) as ‘pitiful.’ Does that mean that my identity, either in part or as a whole, is pitiful?
We, as a society, should be concerned about the day-to-day challenges disabled and other marginalized people face as they, more often than not, are so easy to resolve. ‘Concern,’ however, cannot and must not be confused for ‘pity.’ People are different. It’s part of the beauty of being humans. Why should differences be scorned when they should be celebrated?
As much as disability forms part of who I am, it isn’t something I asked for. That said, I like my life. I want to celebrate all that life has to offer. I want to be able to go out with friends and not feel prying eyes watching me and people thinking ‘Is he alright?’ all of the time. All I want is to live life to the fullest. As much as I’d like to not be ‘pitied’ by some, I take comfort in knowing that those I care about don’t ‘pity’ me.
I’m sure that many people want to avoid a ‘pity party’ that will almost certainly come their way at some point in their lives, it shouldn’t stop us from living. That said if we want to stop being ‘pitied’ we shouldn’t hide away in our bolt-holes but rather educate those who pity us. Personally, I feel the only people should “stay in [their] homes” are people who fail to see how pitying difference is wrong and refuse to celebrate it.