10 Stereotypes of Wheelchair Users that Must Be Broken

March 9, 2016

by Brittany Blumenthal

There are ten ways the media portrays people with disabilities:

  1. Inspirations—the people who have a disability who climb mountains… or just go to Starbucks. On the regular, I will receive thumbs up from strangers just for entering the building to feed my caffeine addiction. I very rarely pay for my own tall soy Peppermint Mocha, because the common civilian does not want this: I’ve inspired him! By rolling one half block…
  1. Deviant, sinister and evil—villains like the dude made of glass that was like, “Holla, Bruce Willis’s train” in that one movie. You know that one movie? Oh, yeah, this is the plot of most movies involving someone disabled.
  1. Victims—vulnerable, weak, tragic objects of violence and abuse. They sit in their room alone a lot. I assume I owe a lot to this stereotype—without it I would not be such an inspiration for going normal places and might have to buy my own coffee.
  1. Exotic freaks—generate feelings of horror, aversion, fear of difference, embarrassment. Like the Hydra.
  1. Clowns—comic relief, laughable appearance, funny voices, the butt of jokes, dumb and dumber, court jesters, fools. From 2nd through 8th grade I went to a school for future Stepford wives where, in the administration’s opinion, I had to take P.E. In P.E. you play with balls a lot: basketball, dodgeball, hockey with a ball. I was hit in the head often, and running the mile was always really awkward, so I was the clown and we all made bad funny jokes and then everyone except me would get detention because I’m pitiful and sweet. See below:
  1. Pitiful and sweet—pathetic, innocent, grateful for crumbs, can sometimes speak gentle words of unwitting wisdom (especially if intellectually impaired), needs to be looked after, often finds miracle cure in film and fiction. My personal favourite, which I used as a crutch for many years. Oh, society. Your denial and ignorance was my easy way into a life of sin.
  1. Twisted and bitter—chip on shoulder, whining, acrimonious, angry and difficult, taking out inner hurt and rage on the world, okay to ignore their concerns, pointless trying communicate with them. (Only because you try to put all of us in one of these 10 categories and it doesn’t always work.)
  1. Burden and outcast—costly, non-contributing burdens on society, can’t and don’t “fit in” anywhere except amongst others of same kind—should be segregated, institutionalized, provided with the bare minimum or euthanized (better off dead anyway), preferably be prevented from reproducing.
  2. Non-sexual—can never be in a relationship (unless partner is pervert or martyr). My mom would tell me every boy I dated had a fetish for many years. Turns out a couple did; it made for some good stories.
  1. Incapable of full participation in everyday life—only when elevators are out of service.

None of the stereotypes fit real people and they screw up society’s view of the disabled.









Megan would have listened. Megan could have comprehended. Megan might have understood. Growing up, I was a child of the night. I hid behind the stereotype that I was a nonsexual, inspirational person to be pitied. I took advantage of the law, unsuspecting girlfriends, high school teachers whose names I cannot tell you because I skipped class the entire year and still managed to pass with honours.

After a while, taking advantage of the stereotypes became boring. Now I just want bars to not have steps and to never ever hear the phrase “You’re pretty hot, for a crippled chick” again. Because guess what? Not everyone with a disability has a humped back, a missing leg, and facial scars—and even if they do, why is that regarded as only “hot for”? Ryan has recently found himself to be missing a leg and I’m pretty sure he’s the hottest man out there.

Text to Ryan (my best guy friend, now my fiancé):







I don’t know how I think I can change a stereotype that has been around for always when I don’t know where I’m going next. I don’t know why I now hate the stereotype that I once loved. But I won’t stop fighting it. Even if the fighting drags me into something I don’t want to be in.



Brittany Blumenthal: I live in small-town Georgia with my fiancé and our dog, who is our baby. My fiance and I started a disability activism blog about our life together and our love: loveinthelandofgiants.com

Originally published in Thought Catalog 


Join the Discussion

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of

The Latest

Two Poems by Faith Arkorful

"It’s hard to be swinging inside this prolonged episode of survival."

Call for Submissions

The Movement Issue “We move together, with no body left behind” – Patty Berne and Sins Invalid “I knew that going into this hike it wouldn’t just be a hike: There’s no movement in America for black women that’s just...

Our Sunday Links

A weekly roundup of links from GUTS

Cultivating Microbiopolitical Self-Care

on the symbiotic relationships we have with all kinds of microbial cultures

Saturn Return P.S.

Comic artists Cee Lavery and JB Brager on what they've learned in saturn return

Don’t Talk to Me #49

on a good day, we’d shop in the discount bins at Giant Tiger, store glowing ugly yellow, buy those knock off white Converse,  hundreds of bins overflowing with junk, thousands of plastic objects ready made to reach the sea, one day or...

Our Sunday Links

A weekly roundup of links from GUTS

Our Sunday Links

A weekly round up of links from GUTS