Bill and Melinda Gates released their annual letter, styled as a report
to Warren Buffett on his investment of over $30 billion in their work. Bill and
Melinda emphasize the value of global development and stress the importance of
vaccines — which they call one of the best deals in global health.
I absolutely hate when people say “so and so did x in spite of their disability” or “so and so overcame their disability and did x.” Because really, that’s not how it works. Disability and illness shapes a person and their experiences. Most of the time, it’s not “in spite of” our disabilities, it’s because of them.
Let’s look at some historical examples, shall we?
Take FDR. He was a wealthy, pompous playboy from a political dynasty who Gatsby-ed his way through the Roaring 20s without ever experiencing the real world. He didn’t become president in spite of having polio, he became president because of it. At a time of national hopelessness and desperation, his polio put him into the real world- into a place of understanding for the common man affected by The Depression. It humanized him and it got him 4 terms. It inspired the March of Dimes which consequently ended up funding Salk’s vaccine. That’s not “in spite of,” that’s because of.
Beethoven did not make music in spite of being deaf. In fact, he revolutionized Romantic music because of his distinct lack of high notes. His symphonies, especially his later works, are all much lower than what was common at the time, and it was all because he couldn’t hear high-pitched sounds.
Frida Kahlo did not blur the lines between Expressionism and Surrealism in spite of being disabled, she did it because she was bedridden and bored. Because she was in pain and she was shunned. In the same way her relationship with Diego Rivera inspired her works, so did being disabled. She didn’t overcome anything expect societies limitations.
The truth is, disability and illness are integral parts of our identities and they do shape our lives. The worlds we build and create are not made by overcoming the hindrance of disability, they are made because of the perspective it gives up.
Erase the idea of in spite of. Erase the idea that our success comes from overcoming anything other than deep-seeded ableism.
Christina Olson, suffered from a mysterious disease that gradually diminished her ability to walk. At the time, locals believed she had polio, but the disease was never definitely diagnosed before her death.
Olson was born in 1893, before the large-scale outbreaks of polio hit the US. As a three year old, she walked on the outer edges of her feet but her limbs gradually weakened, leaving her immobile in her 20s. She may have also lost some sensation in her limbs—when she fell asleep next to a stove in her 50s, she supposedly burned herself without noticing.
Everyone praises Bill Gates, rightfully, for spending billions to eradicate Polio, but no one thinks it’s fucked up that we live in a world where whether or not we eradicate polio depends on the generosity of one billionaire.
By the time of his chat with Murrow, which aired on the day the polio vaccine was announced as safe and 90 percent effective, Salk was already more messiah than virologist to the average American. Polio paralyzed between 13,000 and 20,000 children annually in the last pre-vaccine years, and Salk was the face of the inoculation initiative. Appearing on television to present the vaccine as a gift to the American people was a public relations masterstroke. SOURCE