"Human interest" articles, all pretty much written in the same style, tend to pop up repeatedly in the newspapers and magazines today. They portray a person with some sort of disability, and then they talk about some accomplishment. Usually, it's a relatively minor accomplishment, on the general scale of things; a Deaf kid signing along with his high school choir, maybe, or an autistic teenager going to the high school prom, or a kid with CP starting a business. Or, maybe, it's an "unusual" occurrence, with the only unusual feature being the disability, like two people with Down Syndrome getting married. Some stories take it further: Rather than just doing something that is supposed to be reserved for "normal" people, a disabled person has done something that is an accomplishment for anyone--like a polio survivor becoming a marathon runner. These people are made out to be practically superheroes--someone so amazingly wonderful and determined that nobody else could ever measure up (and wait a minute, you had polio too; why aren't YOU running marathons? That other guy did!).
So what's the problem, you ask? Why not celebrate these accomplishments?
Well, here's the problem. When you write a news story about, say, an autistic kid at a high school prom, you are saying that what you're writing about is newsworthy. It's unusual. It doesn't happen often; it's a freak event, on display for others to gawk at. These, you're implying, are the lucky people who have managed to overcome their disabilities and become more like "the rest of us". They're to be applauded, but all those other people you're not writing about are to be pitied.
When just living your life is considered an accomplishment, what do people expect? They expect, usually, a great deal less. They don't expect the autistic teen to go to the prom, or the kid with CP to become a junior entrepreneur. They don't expect you to learn to drive or get a job or get married, because those are things that "normal" people do.
Inisidious, isn't it? By celebrating the accomplishments in an average disabled person's life, they imply that those accomplishments are unusual--not to be expected.
I remember, for example, the driver in the Assisted Transport service I often used telling me, "It's okay. Driving might not be for you." She probably knows I am autistic, since when I'm overwhelmed, it's most obvious, and it was always very obvious on that bus. She simply didn't expect me--or, probably, any other autistic person--to learn to drive. And then, when I did learn to drive, many people proclaimed it "amazing".
I've had people make similar pronouncements about my attending college or having my own apartment. I'm tired of it--I don't want to be seen as some odd sort of "hero". What was I supposed to do--sit at home and have my brain turn into an inert blob from not having anything to learn; or move in with my mom and have both of us go simulataneously crazy? I am not amazing, and saying that is not supposed to be some kind of false modesty that indicates I really actually want the compliments. Sure, "congratulations" is fine, but "you're amazing"? Nope. Sorry. I'm not buying it. If an average person isn't amazing for doing what they do, then I'm not amazing for doing what I do.
Well, okay, you're free to say I'm "amazing" for ordinary things, under one condition: You must allow me to follow you and constantly make comments like, "Wow! I can't beleive you calculated that 20% tip so accurately!", and, "You found your car in the parking lot! Good job!", and, "I can't believe you haven't had a toilet accident all month!" and call the newspapers every time something of that sort happens. Gonna take me up on that offer?