My name’s Connor, I’m 23 and I have congenital muscular dystrophy, which means I use a wheelchair full time and have muscle weakness throughout my body.
At the Golden Globes awards on Monday night, the actress Meryl Streep gave a powerful speech and it made a lot of sense to me.
Meryl Streep said:
…there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart, not because it was good, it was — there’s nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth.
It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege and power and the capacity to fight back. It, it kind of broke my heart when I saw it and I still can’t get it out my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.
And this instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.
Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.
As a disabled person myself, I agreed with what Meryl Streep said. Looking down on someone brings ill feeling and I think this is often experienced by disabled people. We are often mocked and belittled by those more powerful than us.
I don’t think disabled people need special treatment as such, as this would be an injustice in itself. I just think that like any man or woman, irrespective of disability, we want the same rights, treatment and respect.
It’s not easy living with a disability. A young disabled woman I spoke to recently has been told it could take up to 6 years to find her accessible accommodation so she can live alone with some degree of independence. And for myself, it took me three years before I was able to get an accessible car that meets my needs.
When Donald Trump publicly mimicked the disabled reporter, he made it seem okay to mock us for our differences. The thing is though, we’re not really so very different from non-disabled people. Sure, we often look different and we have our challenges, but we all have our own issues, positive aspects in our lives and our own opinions.
People shouldn’t judge us for our disabilities but make their opinions on us based on personalities and our individuality, not on clichés and stereotypes that wrongly imply we are damaged, weak and vulnerable.
If you’ve not met a disabled person before and you don’t know how to treat us, don’t think about our apparent differences but think about what we have in common.
As Meryl Streep said, disrespect invites disrespect. So when you disrespect us, it’s difficult for us to respect you too! But I believe that empathy also brings about empathy. So watch Meryl’s speech, listen, reflect and – hopefully – learn.