Quick Hit: Vogue op-ed calls out ableist tributes to Stephen Hawking and his legacy

In the wake of Stephen Hawking’s passing on Wednesday, many tributes have followed a common theme: that in death, Hawking has been “freed” from his disability. A much-shared image shows his electric wheelchair empty in the foreground as he walks, unaided, into the stars. In an op-ed for Vogue, Keah Brown points out the ableism inherent in those sentiments — pointing out that his disability was a part of who he was and what he accomplished, that he was a hero to many people with disabilities because of it, and that people with disabilities should hate their disabled bodies and long to be “free” of them.

Saying Stephen Hawking Is “Free” From His Wheelchair Is Ableist

You might be wondering what is wrong with that. Everything. Stephen himself said, “My disabilities have not been a significant handicap in my field, which is theoretical physics. Indeed, they have helped me in a way by shielding me from lecturing and administrative work that I would otherwise have been involved in.” So why is everyone so eager to erase his disability in discussions of his life’s work? Odds are, it’s because disability makes our society uncomfortable, so much so that instead of embracing him for all that he was to able-bodied and disabled people alike, upon his death, people on social media are focusing on how “good” he must feel outside of his body.


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5 comments for “Quick Hit: Vogue op-ed calls out ableist tributes to Stephen Hawking and his legacy

  1. Greg
    March 16, 2018 at 6:17 am

    I think it’s a silly notion to think of those ‘Hawking out of the wheelchair’ memes as ableist. Helen Keller was both blind and deaf, and because she learned how to cope with those tremendous disabilities, she brought hope and courage to millions of people. But can anyone think Helen Keller would have willingly chosen her afflictions under any circumstances?

    Likewise, can anyone think Hawking would prefer his condition over any newly-discovered cure?

    People can think what they want and make any ‘statement’ they want. But to me, this meme with Hawking out of his wheelchair only demonstrates the great love and sorrow people feel at his passing. Nothing more. It’s not because people are uncomfortable with those who have disabilities… it’s because people loved and respected Stephen Hawking.

    I find the meme beautiful! :-)

    • March 19, 2018 at 11:18 am

      Did you actually read the linked article? It addresses pretty much everything you just said.

  2. cpinva
    March 17, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    I envision Dr. Hawking adding a 150hp engine to that chair, and speeding off into the universe!

    • grund
      March 22, 2018 at 9:37 am

      Exactly what I’ve been thinking. Maybe with space unicorns pulling his chair like a near lightspeed chariot.

  3. Brewlord
    March 17, 2018 at 7:58 pm

    It’s also anti atheist since as an atheist, he would be unlikely to believe that he was going anywhere, other than the grave

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