This meme is doing the rounds, again. It ended up on Mr Grumpy's timeline recently, despite the poster knowing that he has an ill wife. It has ended up on the timelines of numerous fellow patients, posted by friends and family who know their situation. And it hurts.
The posters have not taken the time to think about the message such a meme sends to friends and family who are living with illnesses that don't meet the limited ideal portrayed in the media. It also says a lot about how society continues to view disability and illness in this day and age.
It says your illness and your experience is a joke. When they laugh at such an image they are essentially saying you, your illness, your challenges, pain etc are meaningless. When those who use a wheelchair but can still mobilise independently over short distances see such an image it is hard not to take offence. We know the mental and emotional challenge it can take to simple accept the need for a wheelchair. We know that a wheelchair means difference at an age where most are simply out living life, starting careers, studying, having children or travelling. We know that every time we head out into the world someone will find our life a joke. Or, if you are unlucky enough to be this woman, you and your situation, become a beacon for global for mockery.
I can say we shouldn't care.
I can say we should simply ignore this meme and others like it.
But sometimes no matter how stoic we are, such attitudes cut deep.
And frankly, why the hell should we have to put up with mockery and disrespect on top of having to live with disability or debilitating illness?
Those who have not personally experienced serious or prolonged illness; who have never known the challenges of disability or seen how they affect a loved one, seem to still find the whole experience as nothing more than fodder for laughter.
What is lacking in our culture that many feel they have the right to mock, judge, or police others, for circumstances they don't bother to understand? When did compassion and minding your own damn business, get replaced with picking others apart for sport?
The idea that the only viable illness is one that lends itself to clear external markers, such as loss of hair or tubes and bandages, is so incredibly incorrect, as to make it laughable, especially given that figures for so called invisible illnesses are as high as 1 in 2 in some countries. The idea that disability is only seen in the use of a wheelchair, something unfortunately perpetuated by the most commonly used symbol for disability found on blue and white stickers worldwide, excludes millions of people in Australia alone (currently estimates are that approximately 20% of the population are living with some form of disability, only a small percentage of those are permanently in wheelchairs). The idea that only those with paralysis use wheelchairs is equally damaging to a large percentage of users who, like myself, can walk very short distances but are frequently unable to stand or walk for any substantial distance, or depending on the day, unable even to walk one or two steps.
Without my wheelchair I would rarely leave my house. Without my wheelchair I wouldn't shop. I'd never go to a gallery or a market. Or even attend many medical appointments. I have even been known to use my limited energy to push myself up from my wheelchair to grab a product from a higher shelf. I could very easily have been the woman in that picture.
If those who laughed at the above picture, or mocked others in the community for standing from their wheelchair, took the time to speak to the person in question they may find that they are recovering from surgery or illness or have Dysautonomia, Myotonia, Multiple Sclerosis, cancer, lung disease, heart failure, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Arthritis, Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome, or a host of other disabling conditions.
But should these people have to explain themselves to the mockers?
Should they have to lay bear their medical history to receive a basic level of respect?
Should we all wear coloured vests or carry neon signs stating our sick credentials to be treated with dignity?
The meme above, that continues to make the rounds on the Internet, is nothing short of insulting and reflects a basic lack of empathy and character upon those who both continue to share it, and those who laugh or say nothing.
I am tired of having to justify my existence to the wider community. I am tired of friends having to justify the use of mobility aides such as wheelchairs. I am not here to educate every idiot who finds the above meme funny. I have enough on my plate to deal with on a day-to-day level. I don't need the added burden of playing the role of teacher every single day, day-after-day, year-after-year, for people who don't bother to think of how their attitudes affect those of us who have been in that woman's position, or that woman herself. Or who don't realise that they, or someone they love, may one day develop an illness or acquire an injury that will put them in such a position.
This is not about a lack of sense of humour, as is often the accusation made when people like myself question such jokes. Many of us in the chronic illness and disability community have well developed senses of humour. It is what helps make our lives bearable. We find the funny in the most unfunny of experiences. But we are using our own experiences, we mock ourselves not other people. We tread the hard path, the pain, the fear, the tears and the doubt, and we have the right to use our experiences. Others do not.
It is me who cannot stand, who collapses on the floor, who vomits up food on a regular basis, who cannot always hold a glass, and who cries into my pillow from the often unrelenting pain in my body. It is me who is often unable to walk from my bed to my bathroom and has undergone numerous painful and scary medical tests. And it is me who needs to use a wheelchair to access the world and doesn't meet the simplistic perceptions of others.
I have paid my dues and can laugh at my experiences. But when able-bodied people post memes like the one above, when they mock, or make derisive comments, they are misappropriating and minimising my experience and the experience of many others, for a cheap laugh.
It is nothing short of insulting and offensive.
Just as we shouldn't put up with sexist, racist, or homophobic memes, we shouldn't put up with this ableist crap either.
I am tired of having to explain myself. But I am more tired of simply sitting back and putting up with discrimination sugar-coated as humour.
If you post, share, or laugh at memes such as this, you are an arsehole. If you see it and say nothing, you are giving your tacit approval to that attitude. And I for one am going to call you on it.