The Good Cripple archetype has been fascinating me lately, in part because I worked on several Bitch posts which involved this archetype and the ways in which it harms people with disabilities. The Good Cripple, of course, is the person with disabilities who never rocks the boat, never raises a fuss, never causes problems, doesn’t want to be a bother. The Good Cripple is stoic in the face of pain, cheerful in the face of adversity, and never, ever makes people feel uncomfortable with the very existence of disability. Good Cripples don’t confront or challenge.
It is my belief that the Good Cripple trope very much plays into accessibility issues. This is one of those situations in which both able and disabled folks have internalized values about disability because they have been consistently fed these values, and these internalized values feed into social attitudes, thus perpetuating the values. Oh, vicious cycle, how familiar you are.
For members of the able community, the Good Cripple is accepted as the “correct” model of disability. People with disabilities are expected to be models of patient suffering, cheerfulness, etc. In fact, there’s a subtle undercurrent which suggests that Bad Cripples do not deserve help or support. You need to be a Good Cripple in order to be entitled to social services, to charity (don’t get me started on charity), to being treated like you are a human being. This one dimensional model of disability, in which the person with disabilities is not actually allowed to have a personality or emotions, feels comfortable to able folk because it’s the model they are familiar with, and it’s the one which does not challenge their worldview.
For members of the disabled community, life is a series of constant reminders to be a better cripple. We shouldn’t make a nuisance of ourselves, we shouldn’t demand “special treatment,” we should allow ourselves to be used for Special Learning Experiences, we should, above all, not cause any problems. We should not betray bitterness, unhappiness, pain, frustration, we should not have emotions which make other people feel uncomfortable. Definitely wouldn’t want to be…a bother.
So, how does this play into accessibility issues?
Accessibility deniers can come up with a variety of creative reasons for refusing accommodations. It’s too expensive, it would take too much time, it’s ugly, it requires too much work, we don’t know how to do it, how many people with disabilities are there anyway, why should we be giving anyone special treatment, if we do this than everyone will be demanding that too, it’s not that important, it doesn’t matter, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, etc. One of the most telling excuses, though, is “well, no one brought it up.”
No one brought it up, we didn’t know it was an issue, no one said anything. Now, back in my more naive days, I thought to myself “this smells suspiciously like bull feces, and I know from bull feces.” In my more cynical maturity, though, I realize that it is literally true. There are a lot of cases in which no one is bringing up accessibility issues.
And that’s because of the Good Cripple paradigm.
People either don’t want to bring up accessibility because they have internalized the idea that they need to be Good Cripples, or because they don’t have the energy to get into a big fight about it. Everyone picks battles, and sometimes, the battle isn’t worth it. I’ll stop reading that inaccessible website because I don’t want to seem like a nuisance. I just won’t go to that business that I can’t access. I won’t ask for accommodations because that would be a bother, and I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by bringing up accessibility problems. I just want people to like me and to be able to go about my business, so what if I have to engage in complicated detours to get my business done.
The bad cripples raise the stink. The bad cripples are the ones who point out accessibility issues, who call ahead before going places to see if they are accessible, who write angry letters, who force businesses to comply with at least the bare minimum of the law. The bad cripples kick up a fuss, a nuisance, make a mess. I wouldn’t want to be like one of them, attracting all that attention.
This, then, feeds accessibility deniers. They can rest content that they have done everything they have been asked to do, because the Good Cripple archetype ensures that they are unlikely to be asked to do much of anything at all. Or, if they are asked, it’s by one of those Activist Agitator types, and no one would fault the accessibility denier for not ceding to unreasonable demands from one of Those Types. You know the ones. The bothers. The Nuisances. The ones who can’t just settle down and accept the way the world works.
The ones who are Never Satisfied. Those Bad Cripples that just don’t appreciate how much is done for them.
And the cycle continues.