It’s Time To Stop Treating People With Disabilities Like Mythical Creatures

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Growing Up With Cerebral Palsy

“My name is Angelo Gabriel Jingco. I am 24 years old and from Floridablanca Pampanga, Philippines. I was born with cerebral palsy, a type of motor disability that is common in childhood. Growing up I did not feel I was different from my peers; I was brought up in an environment in which my family and friends showered me with love and affection. According to stories I’ve heard, some people doubted that I would be able to walk (it was a skill that took me some time to master, but I did it)! Everything was normal until I started school, as that’s when I began to notice I was being treated differently. There have been many circumstances in which I really wanted to join my peers and have a taste of what they are experiencing, but sadly I was sadly not allowed to join them most of the time.

This is what happens when people lack information. People tend to view their disabled counterparts as fragile creatures who are incapable of looking out for themselves. This is thanks to the stigma brought upon by inspiration porn! People fail to recognize the need to change the status quo because the truth is, these beliefs about disabled people actually give them more restrictions than their actual disability. How are they supposed to prove their worth if nobody gives them a chance? More than anything, people with disabilities yearn to be heard and understood. People need to acknowledge that a disability is a different kind of ability that is worth celebrating, and it’s not a death sentence.

cerebral palsy boy posing on a chair
Courtesy of Angelo Gabriel Jingco

Disability As Inspiration

Now, what is inspiration porn? Inspiration porn is a form of unintentional ableism (the term for discrimination against disabled people). It is caused by the media’s representation of disabled people as some sort of inspirational beings because of their disabilities. This creates a message for people without disabilities to feel good about themselves. It is called inspiration porn because just like pornography, inspiration brought upon by such an event is not really a form of inspiration but rather is a form of mockery. It sends a negative message that disability is either a burden or a curse to be beaten or broken.

If you were to ask me what is my least favorite word from the dictionary it would be the word ‘inspirational.’ How ironic is it when your sources of ‘inspiration’ are not even feeling it themselves? Being born with a disability means that society had already decided for you which things you can and can’t do. This means that because these assumptions had been deemed acceptable, changing their views can be troublesome. Unless they have someone with a disability in their circles – only then will they maybe understand how harmful these assumptions are. We must learn not to judge people’s abilities based on what our eyes can see alone. It doesn’t matter if they are athletic, smart, or perhaps the opposite of those people. The moment they tell you they want to do something which seems to be beyond their ability, don’t stop them. Instead, allow them to experience that magical moment of doing the things that are usually outside of their comfort zone.

I admit there have been times where these things have affected the way I view myself. I sometimes wonder, ‘Am I good enough or am I just being ambitious? What could have happened if I had been born like what society had perceived as normal?’

cerebral palsy man holding up a message to people
Courtesy of Angelo Gabriel Jingco

Social Media

Today, I am using my social media, particularly Instagram, to tell people my story. This started when I discovered people who are like me online. We share the same diagnosis, but we are often very different (cerebral palsy doesn’t affect two people in the same way). This made me feel less alone, and observing them became my source of comfort. Knowing that someone out there is going through the same thing as you is the best feeling in the world because it gives you the assurance that your feelings are valid. You learn that you belong, and at the very least, you are worthy. I became friends with someone who I have met via YouTube on Instagram who uses his account to share things that he is really passionate about, which inspired me to use my own account to raise awareness about my disability. There were times where I almost gave up on telling my story. It seemed like nobody was listening, but I reminded myself that things take time.

Throughout the years, I’ve received my fair share of silly questions. From small things like, ‘How do you dress yourself?’ Even, ‘Does he really walk like that?’ Yes, I am using a walking stick. No, I am not doing it to seek attention. Honestly, I am offended every time people ask me these questions because none of my friends have been asked such silly things. I understand that it’s part of human nature to be curious about the things that we don’t understand. I’d like to again reiterate that people with disabilities are just like everyone else; there is no need to treat them like mythical creatures. Finally, instead of looking at them for inspiration, why not find ways to empower them?

As I post my story on social media, people say things like you’re so inspiring or other kids should learn from your example. I know I should be flattered, right? Unfortunately, I don’t feel that way. Instead, I feel like they are using me to feel good about themselves. I used to think that my feelings about being called inspirational were uncalled for. After all, these people only meant to say such a thing as a compliment. What we don’t realize is that saying things like that to people with disabilities can be problematic. Unfortunately, however, we have gotten too used to this narrative where disabled people are portrayed by the media as a beacon of hope to their non-disabled counterparts.

man with cerebral palsy sitting at a podium
Courtesy of Angelo Gabriel Jingco

We were raised to think, ‘If he can, then so can I!’ The problem with this kind of mindset is that we view those who are not in the same pace as us as lazy. We tend to forget that it’s not laziness that stops them from progressing — it’s the lack of resources that hinder them from moving forward. Now, let me ask you a question. Why would you call a disabled person inspirational when they are doing the same thing as their non-disabled counterparts regularly? When you think about it, calling them inspirational is a constant reminder that they’re not equal.

Since disabled people have already been deemed ineligible by their non-disabled counterparts when it comes to decision making, they have brought it upon themselves to decide for the other group, but this just creates more problems. This is why instead of assuming things, people should let the members of the disabled community speak for themselves because they know themselves better. Communication is vital.

Remember that there is power in words. One should always be careful of the words that come from their mouth. You’ll never know how what you thought to be simple words could impact a person’s life. If you feel like you can’t seem to find the right words to say to somebody, then I highly recommend that you start with a smile because after all, there is a reason why it has been dubbed the universal language.

man with cerebral palsy in his room
Courtesy of Angelo Gabriel Jingco

Inclusivity

Main stream education plays a vital role in creating a better place for everyone. By including a person with a disability in a regular classroom, people will get used to the idea that doing the normal things they do, like being able to play sports, and most especially going to school, doesn’t make disabled people inspirational because education is not supposed to be a privilege. Education is a right, meaning it is for everyone. I entered graduate school not because I wanted to increase my chances of landing a high-paying job someday, but rather to try leveling the playing field in order to make people understand that having a disability is not as problematic as it looks. It is true that there are certain limitations to the things we can do, but that is true for everyone.

man with cerebral palsy at graduation
Courtesy of Angelo Gabriel Jingco

Currently, the only thing that I can’t do by myself is tie my shoes (I stopped wearing shoes in my senior year of high school and switched to wearing crocs which are more comfortable for me). I am sharing my story because posting my accomplishments is my way of raising awareness about the importance of inclusivity.

Having a disabled classmate should not be treated like having an encounter with a mythical creature. It is something that needs to be normalized. I believe that everybody is entitled to dream. After all, it’s free. With that being said, it is not acceptable to tell someone with a disability that their dreams are too good for them. That is already a form of ableism. Instead, encourage them so that they will never be afraid to forge their path. Everyone has a different tale to tell, and each one of us is a protagonist of our own story.

Who could have imagined I would be writing this because when I was younger, talking about my disability was one of my least favorite topics. When someone asks me, particularly my friends’ kids, ‘What happened to you?’ my usual response would be, ‘Go ask your mom.’ Talking about my disability reminds me that I’m not like the rest of my peers.

cerebral palsy man on a balcony
Courtesy of Angelo Gabriel Jingco

Today, I know better because I have come to realize the importance of addressing the elephant in the room. It could create an impact that can change the way people see us. I love to discuss my disability with anyone who is willing to give me their time. Why the change of heart? Because if I won’t talk about it, then who will? Talking about my disability raises awareness, which brings us one step closer to making our society a better place for everyone.

I am currently pursuing my master’s degree not because I yearn for position and power but rather to send a message to everyone that disabled people deserve to have an equal opportunity. My dream is to live in a society where everyone is happy because they have the freedom to follow their dreams and nobody is left behind. I believe, just like that popular Westlife song says, through education anyone can say, ‘I am flying without wings.'”

man with cerebral palsy in front of grass
Courtesy of Angelo Gabriel Jingco

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Angelo Gabriel Jingco from the Philippines. You can follow his journey on  Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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