Before I even start, I want to say “don’t get me wrong.” I really do think Aimee Mullins is fantastic. You know her... double- leg amputee track athlete, awesome public speaker, beautiful make-up model... great advocate for disability community. She’s carved out an amazing career for herself.
Nothing personal against Aimee Mullins, but in the big picture I wonder if she really is that great of a spokesperson for others with disabilities? Better said, is she really all that representative? Her inspiring message and story works for her, and able-bodied audiences eat it up, but is it really that relevant for the majority of us?
In her TED Talk on YouTube “The Opportunity of Adversity” she talks about how the Thesaurus equates "disabled" with synonyms like "useless" and "mutilated" and we need to redefine the word. Well, that’s not how the English language works so that’s not happening anytime soon. Aimee defies these associations... which is great and so should we all... and she shows how adversity — in her case, being born without shinbones — actually opens the door for human potential.
And this is where it all comes to a screeching halt for me. Here’s why. Here’s my problem with the word disability... it’s way too vague and all-encompassing. You just can’t make broad-based statements or use the same brush to paint a group as diverse as this one… amputees, quadriplegics, paraplegics, people with cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, visual impairments, chronic pain, etc. – our differences are greater than our commonalities. I equate it to the community of immigrants - which really isn’t a community at all - there is so much diversity within.
I asked some friends with disabilities what they thought. Some said that Aimee’s comments diminish the realities of life for people, especially those who have disabilities that truly limit opportunities as opposed to open doors for them. It forces us to have to justify our limitations.
Others commend her for her convictions but question whether she’s the right person to say what disability is or is not. Money and beauty aside, said a former model who uses a wheelchair, there’s a hierarchy in the disability community that ranks disability type... fair or unfair is beside the point, it’s reality, she says.
Don’t get me wrong. But what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander.
-Jeff Tiessen, Exec. Producer DT Network