Actually, Ken Jennings, wheelchairs are awesome.

Wow. The wheelchair haters are really coming out in full force lately.

First, there was Kanye. At a concert in Melbourne, he demanded that all his fans stand up as he was about to start one of his songs. Apparently, he stopped the entire concert to single out one person who wasn’t standing — because he was in a wheelchair. Only after someone waved his prosthetic leg in the air and the entire venue knew that this guy was disabled did Kanye continue with the concert. Unbelievable.

(And, okay, I guess that’s not wheelchair hating, per se, but it’s certainly insensitive and totally objectifying: “HEY EVERYBODY — CHECK OUT CRIPPLED McNOLEGS OVER HERE! He’s in a wheelchair! He’s literally the only person not standing! He can’t use his legs like KANYE!! I AM A GODDDDDD!!!!”)

No, really … he said that.

Barely a week later, another high-profile celebrity made an insensitive, ableist comment. Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy fame, tweeted that there’s “nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair.” And, um, I can certainly think of a few. What about a person who’s home-bound because he needs a wheelchair and doesn’t have one? Or how about a self-proclaimed genius who’s too blind to see past conventional standards of beauty, whining on twitter about how a life-changing mode of mobility shrinks his boner? Because that is pretty sad.

“I’ll take ‘Dumbass Things To Say’ for 200, Alex.”

Ken and Kanye’s wheelchair remarks were markedly different, in two completely separate contexts, but they both solidified what our culture, in some ways, has always said: People in wheelchairs are Other. Less desirable. Deserving, somehow, to be lumped together, singled out, pointed at, objectified, and ridiculed. (And by the way, it’s not rude to laugh at someone’s disability — it’s hilarious. It’s edgy.)

Just. So. Edgy. Like this best-selling shirt from T-Shirt Hell. Takes a lot of balls to ridicule someone whose legs work differently than yours.

The consensus in our culture, I guess, is that wheelchairs are sad and people in wheelchairs should be pitied. Or singled out. Or mocked. Or all three. Which makes no sense to me now.

But at a time it did.

Before I had a kid with spina bifida, I didn’t give much thought to wheelchairs at all. But I know for a fact that I did feel bad for people who were resigned to them. Man, I thought, what a pain in the ass it would be to have to use a wheelchair. You’d always be at butt-level with everybody else. You’d have to depend on that chair for everything, and what a pain it would be to transfer over to the toilet or into bed. Ugh. I’m so glad that isn’t me.

I didn’t need a wheelchair. But my child probably will. And when he was born, it changed everything I thought I knew about disability.

He has to use a nasal cannula and a feeding tube in the NICU? Thank God. Now his body can grow and heal without having to use all his energy for eating or breathing.

He has to have a shunt? Thank you, Jesus! A hundred years ago, and even today in some poorer countries, hydrocephalus is a death sentence. But we get a reprieve — just a thin, plastic tube that reroutes his cerebral-spinal fluid to another part of his body, and the hydro is virtually not a problem at all.

We have to catheterize him? AWESOME. Without catheters, Henry’s kidneys and bladders could get seriously messed up or infected.

He might have to use a wheelchair someday? Simply fantastic. Because this little guy might need one. Since his legs and feet don’t work like yours and mine, he’ll need special assistance to get him where he needs to go: On the bus for Kindergarten, out of the house for park and zoo trips, the possibilities are endless. With a wheelchair, we won’t have to worry about him being excluded from things because his legs work differently. He won’t have to be left out or homebound. Wheelchairs are freedom! Wheelchairs are opportunity!

And quite frankly, Ken Jennings, wheelchairs aren’t “sad.” They’re awesome.

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13 thoughts on “Actually, Ken Jennings, wheelchairs are awesome.

  1. I have a theory that Kanye is a character in a Greek tragedy whose fatal flaw and also greatest strength is that he says whatever is in his head, with zero filter. It makes for some creative genius and some great assholery. I love/hate reading his interviews. Sometimes he is very very right, and sometimes he is so very wrong, but whatever it is, he’s going to say it.

    There’s no excuse for Ken Jennings, though. There’s nothing sadder than a smart person who doesn’t realize his own ignorance.

  2. “What about a person who’s home-bound because he needs a wheelchair and doesn’t have one?” <— THIS. YES. Great post! Ken Jennings sounds like the worst.

  3. I am surprised and disappointed by Ken’s arrogance. I have always enjoyed him on Jeopardy, but not nearly as much as I enjoy your blog and following little Henry’s progress. You are truly an inspiration.

  4. Ken Jennings tweets have always been satirical. Maybe you should have read more than one. He’s quite approachable on Twitter. You might also have considered asking about him before blasting him as a hater.

    • Nah, I get it. He’s painting a picture of people in wheelchairs as “less than” and “other”. It’s pretty clear by his refusal to delete the tweet and his non-apology. Hopefully he realizes his words can be hurtful.

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