Coverage of Stephen Hawking’s Death Insultingly Ableist

By | March 14, 2018

Definition of Ableist: Discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities characterizing them as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled.

Pictures of Stephen Hawking walking away from his wheelchair, comments about he’s now being “freed” or “whole” are incredibly ableist and insulting to not only the man he was but also to those of us with disabilities.

Stephen Hawking does not need to be freed from his wheelchair, his wheelchair and adaptive communication board were his freedom, without them he wouldn’t have lived the life he did. His disability was a part of him and showing him apart from that after death is disrespectful to him and all he accomplished. At no other time would people take away a part of a person’s identity after death, to do so is as regressive as saying one “doesn’t see colour”. His (supposed) shortened life span, due to his disability, partly inspired his hunger for answers. His disability was a part of the whole, who he was, and he does not need to be freed from that.

These images and phrases indicate people’s misunderstanding of how liberating wheelchairs are. We are not bound to our wheelchairs, they are our freedom. Stephen Hawking has traveled the world, met with great thinkers, had a family and worked hard all his life because he had the freedom of mobility thanks to his wheelchair. The fact that people without disabilities may see wheelchairs as confining goes to show how much work we have to do to educate people about life with a disability. Stephen Hawking did not succeed despite his disability, he succeeded with his disability.

Diana Crow (@CatalyticRxn) tweeted “The odds weren’t against a disabled person achieving what Stephen Hawking did. They were against ANYONE achieving what Stephen Hawking did. We really need to stop referring to disability and success/achievement as if they’re somehow diametrically opposed.”

Please, now and in the future, consider whether your message may be ableist, reflecting your own negative opinions about disability or whether they reflect the lived experiences of those with disabilities.