I mentioned recently that we started watching a show called Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I really like it and now we are on Season 3. Season 4 has apparently been given the go-ahead.
Last night my partner and I watched the recent episode titled “Terry Kitties.” Sergeant Terry was being sent kittens by his former precinct to taunt him for bursting in on a burglary suspect who had since become a wheelchair user, and then trying to blame the cat next to him in a moment of panic.
But of course, it turns out that the suspect is a big old nasty faker, and DID commit the burglaries after all.
How do they come to this conclusion? Well, they look at a photo of the suspect in his chair, determine that the shoes he is wearing were released the year after he started using the chair (wheelchair users can’t buy new shoes, I guess?) and, most of all, that they have MUD ON THEM and therefore he must secretly WALK, the awful monster!
Let me tell you something. My shoes get scuffed to shit. They also come home covered in mud, especially on a rainy day. Without touching the ground.
Your feet poke out at the front of a wheelchair and they bash into things. Especially if someone else is pushing you. Mud and grime flicked by your wheels, other people, and your dog winds up all over you. Doesn’t mean that you’re suddenly not disabled.
On days that I actually do use my cane to climb out of my wheelchair and sit on the ground with a friend, my shoes get even worse. (I also had to start carrying cards because of how often other people got nasty in this very situation).
So anyway, they go to arrest the guy, turn up at his apartment and, of course, he answers the door STOOD UP OUT OF HIS WHEELCHAIR?!!! Which I do, as well, because my hallway is so narrow.
They pan over to his (empty) wheelchair, an electric one.
Yes, for the purposes of the story, the guy was a disability faker. And disability fakers DO exist. But let me tell you something else.
Electric wheelchairs are bloody expensive. My new chair costs £3,000 and can’t handle slight ridges in the pavement. For an “all-terrain” chair that still struggles, you are looking at £11,000. If you have a more complex disability like Cerebral Palsy and require specialist controls etc., you are looking at £25,000 just for a chair which sometimes doesn’t manage well outside.
Unless somebody is already inexplicably rich, they are not a faker in a powerchair, because they are just too damn expensive to waste money on if you are not really disabled. In the USA, where the show is set, they have an insurance system anyway, for which a person’s doctors and then someone at the insurance company would have to approve that particular individual model of chair being required.
If they had put him in a really cheap, crappy, manually-propelled chair with those thin castors that last for a little while before you have to go and buy another, then I could have believed him as a wheelchair faker. But in a powerchair? No.
Showing a powerchair and making a deal out of muddy (and new, for some reason) shoes, is what really bothered me about this episode.
Because viewers will spot someone in a chair like that as they go about their day, they may notice that their shoes are filthy, and maybe not most, but certainly some of them, will say something. Many of those people will do something physically.
When George Takei sent THAT meme around, someone in the very city I live in was physically assaulted as a result, a few days later. Like me, she used an electric wheelchair, and she was lifted out of her chair by a group of men, and they then dropped her into the centre of the road and left her to be hit by cars. I live in fear of that happening to me.
Displaying these stereotypes about wheelchair users – that we are all paralysed completely and never leave our chairs, that our shoes don’t get dirty, and that any deviation from this is fakery – leads to real life hate attacks. Because people.
I’m just very disappointed that a show I really love, joined in.