Welcome back to Off Balanced! This past weekend in my introductory post (read here) I spoke about my plans for this blog. To help keep my posts organized I’ve decided for at least the foreseeable future to preface my posts with one of three categories: Debunking Misconceptions, Personality Profile, and Book News. Each topic seems self-explanatory so without further ado I wish to get into the meat of today’s post.
Recently SI.com’s Dan Greene highlighted independent professional wrestler Gregory Iron in an article titled “Gregory Iron, The Handicapped Hero, Chases His Wrestling Dreams.” The wrestler dubbed “The Handicapped Hero” has a case of cerebral palsy which affects his right arm. Early on in the piece I became tempted to forgo reading the rest of the article due to the following sentence-
“If he (Iron) tucks his right arm at his side or obscures it from view, you’d never guess that there’s anything disabled about the upbeat kid whose pectoral muscles stretch his T-shirt”
Whether Greene meant to or not, with the above he endorses the stereotype people with disabilities can’t be physically fit. Now I don’t want this to come across as me picking on Greene because the truth is overall the mainstream media views disabilities negatively. When Gregory Iron appeared on Fox & Friends Weekend (see video) the host basically asked “The Handicapped Hero” what kept Iron from allowing his disability to influence him to give up on life. Such a question provides the allusion having a disability means facing insurmountable challenges. The truth however reveals a disability to be just another problem to tackle. Everyone in life encounters difficulties so in a way everyone has handicaps.
Now to be completely honest the misconception people with disabilities are physically helpless bleeds over internally to the disabled community. Last year around this time a healthcare company contracted me to write a series of articles about living with spinal cord injuries. I worried about how many articles I could actually produce because I imagined severe disabilities involving being paralyzed to some degree to create a very restrictive lifestyle. However, a little research really opened my eyes. I learned a lot about adaptive sports especially, even finding myself staring at my computer screen awestruck watching the intensity adaptive sports like sled hockey and wheelchair rugby bring out.
Sled hockey competition from the 2010 Paralympics Photo: Wikimedia Commons user popejon2
I’m not the only one though to underestimate the abilities of my disabled peers. Let’s go back once again to “The Handicapped Hero” Gregory Iron who I interviewed this past summer for my Yahoo! Contributor Network article “Inspirational Profile: Gregory Iron.” Iron explained to me growing up he knew he wanted to work in the wrestling industry but didn’t consider in-ring action a possibility until he saw one legged wrestler Zach Gowen on WWE television. Zach Gowen inspired “The Handicapped Hero” to reach beyond the misconception the disabled are physically helpless.
If asked to speculate on why able-bodied individuals and their disabled kin believe the physically helpless misconception, I’d venture to say the negative stigma stems from how mainstream media perceives disabilities. Yet thanks to the Internet and social media we all possess the power to debunk this misconception. If we all just tweeted or posted one disability orientated athletic story a day, we can show everyone people with disabilities can be stacked and jacked just like able-bodied individuals.