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Inclusion, Justin Bieber and a Wheelchair

On occasion something uncool becomes cool, because a particular person redefines coolness.  Ben Mattlin is just such a person.   He metaphorically rode to the rescue of Justin Bieber in his New York Times Op-Ed “When Wheelchairs Are Cool.”

He begins with these words:

“LAST week, the celebrity gossip site TMZ posted pictures of Justin Bieber in a wheelchair. He was not at a hospital. He was at Disneyland. As everyone knows, Disney patrons in wheelchairs get to cut to the front of the lines. But as a dispute flared over whether this was Mr. Bieber’s intent, becoming a trending topic on Twitter, one fact remained unassailable: I was there first.”

He explains what he means by being there first:

“One of the great perks of being in a wheelchair — as I have been since age 4 — is being able to cut lines.”

Irony of ironies is Justin Bieber doesn’t need a wheelchair to avoid lines, but those with a disability do, and on these occasions they experience their own Justin Bieber moment.  Ben says it better, “You get treated like a V.I.P.   You get treated like Justin Bieber, except without the screaming fans.”

Now Ben delivers a philosophical gift when he describes his perspective on Mr. Bieber.

The teen heartthrob’s publicists said that he was just resting an injured knee, not trying to pretend he was, well, like me. But I prefer to think otherwise. After all, they also acknowledged that even without the wheelchair, he would still get to circumvent the endless queues, to avert a riot. The point is that he was not afraid to be seen in a wheelchair, which, to me, is a point for my team.

I love Ben’s perspective.  Justin Bieber in a wheelchair is always a win for his team.   His team are those with disabilities whose plight he describes in this next quote.

There is still something hopelessly “other” about folks with disabilities. Wheelie Justin may be a hopeful sign for the future, when the very image of disability no longer stigmatizes.

How refreshing is this amazing perspective, and Ben isn’t even close to finished.

“I’ve long believed in disability pride, a.k.a. Crip Cool (there’s even the #cripswag hashtag on Twitter). To me, that has never meant being an awe-inspiring overachiever, someone who succeeds despite a disability. Rather, it’s the opposite — someone who embraces his or her disability and isn’t afraid to show it. Wheelchairs can be fun. Voice-recognition technology is a blast. Vans with automatic ramps are awesome. And don’t forget our coveted parking spaces. All of which help mitigate the bad stuff.”

This entire article which I have linked to a number of times is essential reading.  Despite the temptation to think you have the drift don’t rob yourself.  Go read the article and post a comment like I did, so everyone can know just how important it is to include those with disabilities.

Inclusion!  Ben Mattlin just taught me a serious inclusion lesson.  He taught me the power of inclusion doesn’t always reside with the typical.  Sometimes the attitude and graciousness of those with disabilities is the key to inclusion.

This attitude was on full display when Ben wrote:

“So go ahead and play disabled. As long as it’s done with joy and respect — not to tease or poke fun — I won’t be offended.  Just don’t do it for the freebies, which are harder and harder to find these days anyway.   Do it as you do anything else, because you think it’s cool.”