I was saddened to hear of Stephen Hawking’s death last week. Such a brilliant scientist who made so many strides in advancing our understanding of the universe — and also inspired so many conversations on The Big Bang Theory that I’ll never understand!
But what made me even sadder, and, quite frankly, angry to my core? The response to his death. I’ve seen this meme making the rounds and can’t get over just how insulting it is. Implying that Stephen Hawking is “free” now is incredibly ableist and insulting to people with disabilities!! Guess what?? You can be in a wheelchair AND live a productive, fulfilling, free life.
So I’m sure you can probably guess what I did. Yes, I wrote about it. For THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. I couldn’t quite believe it myself when the editor accepted my essay, but, needless to say, it’s been a dream come true. Never in a million years did I ever think I’d have a byline in such a huge-circulation newspaper!
Here’s an excerpt of the piece, which also appeared in the March 21st print edition of the newspaper…
My wheelchair has carried me—literally—through high school, college and work as a freelance writer. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without it. After all, it gives me the ability to travel, go shopping and live independently—activities that might seem routine but can be extremely challenging for people with disabilities.
Maybe that’s why it’s so frustrating to see Hawking’s wheelchair viewed as a prison he has finally escaped. The idea that wheelchairs hold people back is such an outdated misconception; in fact, they do just the opposite. They’re not a hindrance. They’re incredible tools that give people with disabilities new freedom and power—a chance to thrive in an able-bodied world. To see them as anything less is insulting to those who depend on them every day.
After writing this essay and my recent CNN Opinion pieces, I’m remembering just why I love op-ed writing so much. In college, I took a class on editorial and opinion writing. The year was 2004, and, honestly, part of me just took the class because it fulfilled the requirements for my journalism degree. I didn’t think I’d actually come away with a deep love for the writing genre, but that’s exactly what happened. Maybe I should do more of these? It also reminds me of my days as a newspaper columnist, which was a pretty exciting gig!
You can read the full piece here and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat! And of course, feel free to share my essay on Facebook, Twitter or even your local refrigerator. If you share on Twitter, be sure to tag me @melissablake so we can connect! I can’t wait to hear from you! Love you all… xoxo