Prom season is fast approaching and with it comes the annual wave of local news coverage on high school seniors who ask their disabled classmates to prom. High school can be tough for everyone and there is nothing inherently wrong with asking someone who doesn’t have a date to prom yet. It’s a kind gesture. But it does become problematic when it is done in selfishness. There is a huge difference between asking a date-less friend to prom and calling the local news channel to request coverage of the handsome quarterback promposing to their autistic classmate. The difference is that the latter is exploitative. Disabled people are not trophies through which we can display kindness. And loving disabled people is certainly not an act of charity.
The narrative of able-bodied and/or neurotypical people paying attention and being kind to disabled people is somehow seen as an epic tale of selflessness. It is way too common for parents to get praised and be called “brave” for wanting to raise their disabled children. As if the disability of the children is somehow a burden on the parents and as if disabled people are so impossible to love that ones who do love the disabled are revolutionary saints. The same treatment is applied to people who are in relationships with disabled people. Partners of disabled people are seen as “courageous” for “dealing” or “putting up” with their partners. This is a narrative that has its roots in ableism.
To assume that able-bodied and/or neurotypical people are the only ones deserving and worthy of love is ableist. This assumption spreads throughout a culture that normalizes the mistreatment of disabled classmates, children, lovers and strangers. Disabilities are a part of the lives of those who are disabled. Disabilities are not costumes we wear or burdens we want others to pretend to carry. If my disabilities are something despite which I can be loved, I do not want to be loved. I want to be loved because of who I am and my disabilities are a part of that. I cannot speak for all of the disabled community but what I can say is that pretending to love someone with disabilities out of pity or out of wanting to be seen as kind (not actually being kind) is plain wrong.
Finding it easy to befriend, love and spend time with disabled people is not a revolutionary act. No one deserves a pat on the back for seeing people as people. No one is “brave” or “selfless” for “tolerating” the disabled. It is time we understand that loving someone with disabilities is simply loving another human being. No number of Thought Catalog or Cosmopolitan articles titled “Would you date someone with bipolar disorder?” make it easier for us to exist without feeling like we are somehow inconveniencing the non-disabled. All I ask is that you ask us to prom, date us, love us and share the world with us as people. Not as trophies. Not as sacrifices. As people.