I have to admit I did a double-take. When I heard the story a few weeks ago on my news feed on Facebook, I thought somebody was kidding. Kanye West stopped his concert because two of the fans there would not stand up during part of the performance What? That is ridiculous! In my mind, there was no way that it was real.
I was wrong. As I read through the story I discovered that not only had all of that happened, but the fans were a person who was an amputee and a wheelchair user, and Kanye West sent some of his staff over to where they were sitting to make sure their disabilities were legitimate.
Get over yourself Kayne! Seriously!
Kanye West is African-American. His actions would be similar to me, as a motivational speaker stopping a presentation I was giving because people of color wouldn’t change their DNA.
Even if they didn’t have disabilities, if some people didn’t want to stand up at the command of Kayne West, that is their choice. This is America after all.
Then a few days back I read about Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings. I saw a video of him recently on the game show breezing through a complicated category of questions with ease. But today I question his intelligence. He set Twitter on fire when he tweeted the comment “Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair.” Yes, he actually said that. And no, there is no evidence that his account had been hacked. He apparently meant it as a joke. I am not laughing.
As my friend Susan said, for a Jeopardy champion, he certainly isn’t too smart.
I have written numerous blog posts about the way people with disabilities are treated like second class citizens in our society. That reality irritates me like a rash that never ends. I can say it is not right. It is not fair. It is indecent, despicable even. And all of those things are absolutely true. How can you ask people with disabilities to do what they are incapable of doing? How can you come to the unilateral conclusion that all wheelchair users are unattractive because of their wheelchairs? But thousands of people are already saying those things, so my protest would probably fall on deaf ears.
However, I spent some time this afternoon thinking about what I would say to these two men if I had the opportunity to be alone in a room with them. It boils down to one simple thing.
Nobody has a disability by choice.
When I write about my life and share my story with others I am quick to say that I would never trade the experiences that I have had for the ability to walk. People that know me well know I am okay that I will never climb a tree or drive across town on my own. I have done amazing things because I have a disability, and I will believe that truth until the day that I die.
But I believe that only because of the life I live today. I am not sure if the same could be said if I had been given a choice as to whether I wanted a disability when I was born.
Disability comes in the form of a whole package. As I said, I have been part of phenomenal things because of it and accomplished things I used to only dream of. I have also experienced bullying that scarred my soul, the endless ache of loneliness, frustration over the things I could not do, as well as immeasurable heartache and rejection. Even though I will soon be forty-six years old, there is a tiny part of my heart that still wishes I could just be like everybody else.
I can only speak for myself here, but my guess is the guys in the crowd wanted to stand up and all wheelchair users wish they were perceived as attractive. Kayne West and Ken Jennings don’t seem to understand that and to be honest, I don’t understand why. Does having fame desensitize some to the feelings of others? Does it make some people forget the boundaries of good taste?
My cerebral palsy means that I will probably always be a wheelchair user. I will never be able to do all the things I want to do without the assistance of a caregiver. I don’t have a choice about those things and I am okay with that. Without question I struggle on some days that are difficult, but for the most part I accept the life that I live.
If you want to know the truth I have never been a Kayne West fan. Rap just isn’t my thing. I have never really liked Jeopardy either. Trivia doesn’t do it for me. But based on their despicable actions in recent weeks these men have guaranteed that I will never be a fan of theirs.
Because I do have a choice about that.