Artie walked last night on Glee. He even danced on two feet.
I knew it was coming.
In an episode entitled Dream On (with Neal Patrick Harris guest starring), Artie went through all kinds of changes about the possibility of curing his spinal cord injury. He tried to get up on crutches to walk and fell. He researched treatments and wound up in the counselor's office, where his hopes were greeted with the fact that it's research and years away.
What Artie took away from that is he decided to sing rather than dance in a Glee number, saying that his partner deserved better and that anyone could dance better than him except Finn. That may be true, but it's not because he's using a wheelchair. It's because he doesn't know how to dance in a wheelchair.
First of all, it's difficult for me to wrap my brain around a nondisabled actor playing a disabled guy in a wheelchair who gets out of the wheelchair in a dream sequence to pretend he's nondisabled - because that's his dream. Say what?
The problem with all this is that children and teens, who still buy into the fantasy of the entertainment world, are watching Glee in large numbers. Meanwhile, kids I love are being excluded in real life from class trips and social and educational opportunities, mainly because of how society thinks about disability. Just think about the messages sent in last night's episode:
You can't walk, so you can't dance.
You can't walk, so you can sit over there and wait while I get you a pretzel upstairs.
You can't walk, so sit in one spot and hold this for me.
I can't walk, so get another partner.
I can't walk, so I can't dance, I'll just sing.
I can't walk, so I can't realize my dream.
Message after message of what Artie, the kid in a wheelchair, can't do. No wonder kids with disabilities are still excluded from opportunities. It's not because of their wheelchairs or because they can't walk far enough- it's because of how we think about disability. How teachers, educators and peers think about it. How they themselves are taught to think about it.
Maybe we advocates need to start breaking into song to show that to "dream on" only about walking or being nondisabled is a silly ableist fantasy.
And to let people know that we can do what they can, in a different way - and sometimes we can do even more.