Confronting Stereotypes of Attraction and Wheelchairs

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Dealing with stereotypes is undoubtedly something everyone who uses a wheelchair has encountered at one point. Courtney, a paraplegic in her early 20s, shares her experience and her subsequent reflection on a stereotype she’s experienced.

When Courtney was in her teens, a stranger approached her and said, “You’re probably the prettiest person I’ve seen in a wheelchair.” Initially, Courtney says she was flattered. But several years later, that stranger’s comment has stuck with her, and she now thinks about that ‘compliment’ a little differently.

“It makes me sad to think that people automatically assume if you have a wheelchair that you’re not going to have good looks, or be physically appealing.”

Courtney thinks this stereotype exists because the general public often has the mindset that if someone is in a wheelchair, he or she must be sick and therefore unattractive. “When you’re ill,” she shares, “it’s common knowledge that you’re not going to be looking your best. Say you have the flu or a cold, some sort of bug, it’s going to be obvious on your face that you’re unwell at the moment. It’s entirely different, though, when it is a physical disability.”

Courtney wants to break this stereotype by sending the message that there’s absolutely no reason why a wheelchair user can’t be seen as physically attractive. “Just because you’re not walking doesn’t mean you’re not going to have your mothers genes. Or your dad’s smile,” reasons Courtney. And she is encouraging other wheelchair users to speak up as well.

“If you are tired of dealing with the stereotype, I hear you loud and clear. Don’t ever give up on raising your voice for what you believe.”

And to the able-bodied population who continue to think and say things like, “Oh you’re really pretty … for someone in a wheelchair,” Courtney’s advice is as follows: “Putting it into your mind that when a person isn’t walking, that they won’t be appealing, or attractive, it’s just not something you should do, because there’s not truth to it. At all.”

What stereotypes do you encounter as a wheelchair user? And how do you handle them? Let us know, and you might be featured on AbleThrive!

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