What a Jerk: Disability and the Right to Criticism

Through my work at Disability Rights Iowa, I’ve had the opportunity to meet hundreds of my disabled peers. I have meet inspiring, courageous young people with disabilities and I’ve met outright jerks. I’ve heard people with disabilities speak passionately and lovingly about their challenges, and I’ve heard people with disabilities speak from a place of hatred or even prejudice. Unfortunately, the public at large is all too eager to ignore our flaws and allow these missteps to go unchallenged, more comfortable in the assumption that we can do no wrong. Parents allow their children with disabilities to mistreat them, writing off their behavior as an inevitable consequence of their individual needs. Pastors have made similar mistakes, seeing the joy of a disabled child as somehow a miracle, as if a child enjoying life should be impossible inside a disabled body. This toxic mix of reduced expectations and the canonization of the disabled experience is profoundly harmful.