After watching the last dozen episodes of Speechless on ABC, I decided to write about the issues showcased in the weekly episodes. Speechless does an incredible job highlighting challenges, issues and irritations people with disabilities face. What is even better, Speechless does so in a very humorous light.
Last week’s episode of Speechless was titled H-E-R-HERO. This episode actually addressed two challenges faced by many individuals with disabilities: wrestling with insurance companies and “inspiration porn”. I personally have not had to fight insurance companies, but my mom certainly has. You may be wondering and may even be intrigued about “inspiration porn”. I will explain that later in this blog, so you keep reading!
This episode of Speechless opens with JJ and his siblings attempting a wheelchair stunt to post on social media. It backfired and JJ’s wheelchair was damaged. His replacement chair was a refurbished piece of crap. This is all the insurance company would provide.
My current insurance will replace a wheelchair after 8 years. In the meantime, they do pay for repairs. However, while the chair is being repaired, I am at the mercy of a “loaner” chair. This is not always a good thing. One loaner chair almost drove me off my van ramp while it was raised off the ground! I already have cerebral palsy, I do not want to add a broken neck to my “disability resume”!
Loaner chairs are often uncomfortable and not designed for my body. Considering the fact that I sit in my chair 11-13 hours a day, this is a real pain. I mean a REAL PAIN! Sometimes it is literally a pain in my you-know-what! Disabilities and body sizes can change greatly in 8 years. There really needs to be exceptions to this rule for those who truly need new chairs before the 8 year wait. My last chair was replaced only after my tires were falling apart, my motor cracked and my chair was dying a slow, painful death.
The issue goes beyond wheelchair replacement. My body needs continual physical therapy. The present situation is I need to be in enough pain to go into the doctor. They write a prescription for physical therapy. I go for the allotted sessions and begin to feel improvement. The insurance company stops my physical therapy. The pain returns and the cycle begins once again.
My mom told me about fighting relentlessly with the insurance company when I was three. They stopped all my PT, OT and Speech because they stated that I had reached my potential! I was 3! At 3, the insurance company had decided my prime had come and gone! My mom was able to find a way for me to continue and did not have go to the levels of persuasion that JJ’s parents had to in the Speechless episode! Speechless made this challenge entertaining and funny, but the reality is not so funny. Dealing with insurance companies only complies stress on an already stressful situation.
Now on to the good stuff, porn. “Inspiration porn”, that is! What is “inspiration porn”? According to Ray (middle child in the DiMeo family) of Speechless, “It’s a portrayal of people with disabilities as one dimensional saints to only exist to warm the hearts and open the minds of abled-bodied people”.
JJ of Speechless blames this on Tiny Tim! Most people who participate in “inspiration porn” are very well meaning. The point being made is that people with disabilities are people first.
We are not saints simply because we have a disability. Neither are our caregivers. I am a 24-year-old man with a lazy tendency and a warped sense of humor. I used to irritate my brother just for fun. I now irritate my mom and caregivers for amusement. I drive my wheelchair too fast or too slow and bang into walls. I have a very limited amount of common sense. I am obsessed with WWE wrestling and cooking shows. Does this make me a hero? I think not. It makes me human.
I do have more challenges than some and less than others. I try to live life as it comes and smile and laugh my way through it. Does this make me a hero? I think not. It makes me a human with a great outlook and positive attitude. I remember dates like a computer. I know that I watched my first wrestling show, a WCW Nitro episode, in July of 1997. If you tell me your birthday, I will remember it forever, along with how old you are. I remember the dates of when famous people die and how they die. I remember random facts and am always ready to share them at random times. Does this make me a hero? I think not. It makes me a human with a great outlook, positive attitude and a freaky ability to remember dates and facts. OK, maybe all of this makes me an amazing person, but not a hero.
Hollywood can take the blame for “inspiration porn”. Hollywood over glorifies and glamorizes the lives of disabled people. I really appreciate ABC’s Speechless, in that they don’t overdo it with the “inspiration porn”. As Ray said in his final speech about his brother JJ, “He can be a real jerk. He teases me, tortures me and runs me over with his wheelchair…He isn’t brave either, he is just living his life”. That is what I am doing, just living my life. Having cerebral palsy is not easy, it can be challenging. Who doesn’t have challenges in their life? We all do, my challenges are just more visible. That does not make me a hero and it does not make me brave. It just makes me Hunter.
Attending the Woodchucks game with my friend, Daryl
Many want to know what they can do, how they should act. Just treat people with disabilities the way you would treat anyone else in your life. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be a friend. Just be you!
Catch Speechless on ABC on Wednesday Nights at 8:30/7:30c. You can also watch all the episodes on Hulu.
Until next time, Keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’!