The title of this blogpost is a rather poor effort at a catchy streamline I grant you, but the message in no way belies what is an important issue for physiotherapists, health professions, or anyone who cares about the way disabled people are portrayed in the popular media.
There has been some serious criticism of the new English film Me Before You in recent days. The film portrays a millionaire disabled man, played by non-disabled actor Sam Claflin, who strikes up a relationship with his carer, Emilia Clarke, after being paralysed in an accident. The depiction of a man with so much, wanting to die, has enraged some disability rights activists because it offers yet another negative stereotype of disability.
Protesters at a recent screening in New Zealand chanted “assistance to live, not assistance to die” and “tell sad stories about your own lives”, but it was one comment by one of the protesters that really caught my eye.
Speaking about the way disabled people were often seen in stereotypical terms, protester Esther Woodbury said, “We’ve seen this story so many times and we’re sick of people doing anything they can to not be disabled – and that includes killing themselves – or just serving as a plot point to help other people”.
That phrase ‘…we’re sick of people doing anything they can to not be disabled…” struck a chord with me and reminded me so much of John Swain, Sally French and Colin Cameron’s arguments in their chapter Practice: Are professionals parasites? from their 2003 book Controversial issues in a disabling society (link).
So much physiotherapy and rehabilitation work is prefaced on the idea that disability is something to be overcome rather than embraced and celebrated, that I wonder whether Woodbury, Swain, French, Cameron and many others are not making a very important point that too few physiotherapists have really thought about before.
Are you doing everything you can to make sure people are not disabled? If so, it may be that the consequences of your actions are more far-reaching than you realise.
Swain, J., French, S., & Cameron, C. (2003). Practice: Are professionals parasites? In Controversial issues in a disabling society (pp. 131-140). Buckingham: Open University Press.