How Does Wikipedia Feel About Your Disability?
So you’re retarded. This means a lot of people have a lot of different ideas about you, and that they’re allowed to express them with great passion and conviction whenever they want to.
It also means these ideas will have a significant impact on your life, whether they’re positive, negative, or just hopelessly confused.
One of the most prominent and influential sources of ideas on the Internet is Wikipedia, which is a little unsettling because anyone can go on there and say anything they want. It turns out that Wikipedia has some pretty entertaining ideas about disabilities, as seen by the photographs at the top of each article about every major cognitive disability.
I’m going to show you a bunch of these photos, and we can analyze them together and maybe figure out what the hell it all means.
So how are we going to boil down autism into a single image? How about obsessively stacking things? Yeah, why not, let’s go with that.
To be fair, the subject of this photograph really does have autism, though the caption doesn’t mention this. I had to go digging into the copyright information to find that out. Also, the photo is twelve-years-old, so this kid is a teenager now. One can only imagine what he thinks of literally being the face of autism.
What it means to be Aspie: assembling an I-don’t-know-what into what the photograph’s file name assures me is riboflavin penicillinamide, and I don’t know what that is either. So apparently I’m a shitty excuse for an Aspie, which I already suspected because I’m capable of dressing myself and I know how to love.
The similarities and differences between this and the autism photograph are telling. Both photos involve an obsessive, carefully ordered activity, though the child in this photo is older (and not identified as having a disability), and engaged with an actual toy. I’m not sure what this means, but I’m sure it means something.
There are a lot of stereotypes about people with Down’s Syndrome, but one I wasn’t aware of is that apparently they love power tools. Well, that just shows how much I know.
In all seriousness though, I suspect this photo was chosen to demonstrate that people with Down’s Syndrome are capable of doing things. They’re not handicapped, they’re handicapable.
This somewhat condescendingly-presented message is undercut by using a picture of a child to represent a typical Down’s Syndrome person. Both autistics and Aspies were also represented with photos of kids. This infantilization is discouraging.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Okay, so it might have been surprising for you to learn that people with Down’s Syndrome are capable of wielding drills without gouging out their eyes, but here’s something that will really blow your mind.
Folks with ADHD are capable of working hard! Yes, like other disabled people, they’re all prepubescent, but they routinely finish their homework on time.
I don’t know what to make of the fact that these children are of Asian descent, whereas the other kids were all white. They might be unconsciously playing into the stereotype of Asian people as hard workers. Which would be horrifying.
There’s no picture at the top of this Wikipedia article. Just text. Which is kind of ironic in an article about the most common reading disability.
Off to the side and down a bit is this:
Which is just tremendously dehumanizing.
People with dyslexia can’t even be thought of as children, apparently. Just disembodied brains. Disembodied, broken brains.
An old dead white guy. I’m sure this is very meaningful to the lived experience of people with Tourette’s.