Esté Yarmosh has Cerebral Palsy. She holds a B.A. in English from Eastern Connecticut State University and is currently studying for her Master of Arts degree in English at Simmons College. Her previous guest post, Disability Dismissed, was published in October.
I was surfing the Internet recently for (good-natured of course, not mean-spirited) humor about disabilities, particularly in the form of graphics and slogans. I found the website Café Press.com, which sells t-shirts, hats, and other items with funny and clever (I suppose) sayings and images on them. I was curious to see what would appear when I searched for “disabled” on the website. I found a lot of what I thought were amusing items, some with very suggestive slogans and pictures, but I laughed at them anyway. We’re aware that disability is a serious issue in our lives, but it can’t be too bad to sometimes laugh at certain things related to disability.
I wanted to get more specific in my website search, so I typed in “Cerebral Palsy,” which is the condition I have. When the results came up, I started reading through them and I was deeply offended. The graphics were very depressing in the way they perpetrated stereotypes about disability: the charity case; attempting to find a cure; let’s make friends with the different kid, etc. The funny thing is whoever designed these images and phrases (they were clearly able-bodied) got the facts about CP completely screwed up.
Cerebral Palsy is life-long, yes, but it’s a non-progressive condition, so a cure can’t be found for it – claiming you’re trying to do that is simply absurd. Also, I found a graphic which stated, “Cerebral Palsy Survivor,” which angered me because CP is not a chronic illness; and besides, people with disabilities are trying very hard (and have been for a long time) to reduce the importance and influence of the so-called medical model on able-bodied thinking and even more importantly, in our own lives. We are also trying to rid ourselves of the long-held stereotype of the charity/pity case, one of the most damaging stereotypes about us that has existed. It is all too obvious that it still exists about Cerebral Palsy through images such as those on Café Press.com: a teddy bear in a stocking, with words next to it which read, “all I want for Christmas is a cure.” The sentimentality and maudlin nature (which is such a component of the charity case stereotype) of the graphic made me cringe. It sets us back at least one-hundred years in terms of progress; and moreover, the slogan is completely wrong about CP, because as I said it is not an illness or a disease, so a cure will never be produced – knowledge of that is not supposed to leave somebody in despair; it is just the way it is. In other words, talk of cures for CP is irrelevant and ridiculous. I should know about Cerebral Palsy, because it is part of me.
It is very unsettling to me to think that items like this teddy bear shirt are continually created and then bought and worn by an ill-informed, naive and/or idealistic (most likely able-bodied) public who are wooed by a sentimental, repressive message which is totally fabricated and is based on thousands of years of disability stereotypes. I still want my Cerebral Palsy humor!