Oscar Pistorius and the Stigma of the Disabled

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oscar pistorius

Today Oscar Pistorius went on trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. As most of you know, Pistorius is a double amputee – because of a genetic abnormality, his legs were amputated below his knees before he was a year old. Steenkamp was a model who is described as a sweet, intelligent, beautiful and kind-hearted. For the purposes of this blog post, that is all that is relevant. Regardless of what happened in their home on that fateful evening, there is something appropriate to this blog that I have heard in recent weeks. Please bear with me.

Last week I spoke to the family of a child with Narcolepsy, she discussed the stigma attached to the disease and how difficult it has been for their family. I like to think I am fairly open-minded and try to look past physical appearance and mental health when engaging with a person. I’m not perfect, but I try. While trying to put myself in their shoes and wonder what it would feel like to have a stigma attached to my physical well-being, I remembered something I recently heard on the radio. While discussing the Pistorius case, a male and female DJ were discussing the relationship between Pistorius and Steenkamp. It went exactly like this:

“Why would he kill her? A guy like that should be grateful to have any girl, he’s got no legs. I can’t imagine women are beating down his door.”

The female newscaster laughed and readily agreed, “And she wasn’t just any girl, she was a beautiful model!” 

That’s the message they are sending – Oscar Pistorius, and anyone else with a physical disability, are lucky to find love. After all, they are imperfect beings.

In retrospect, I wish I had made more of an effort to record the name of the station and the names of the DJ’s, I tried to commit it to memory until I could put it on paper but forgot. After all, being in a car with your kids for 2 days does not promote clear thinking. Once I recovered, I asked my husband if I heard them correctly, I couldn’t believe they would say such things on the radio. He confirmed that’s what they said and he was in shock as well.

I’ve heard worse things on TV and the radio, but this one really bothered me. Perhaps it’s because of my heightened awareness since begining this blog, or it could be because I would never say anything like that. In all honesty, my second reaction was ‘I hope they aren’t teaching their kids to think like that’.

Do they really believe that’s it’s okay to belittle those less fortunate? That physical appearance is more important than what’s inside? In their world, anyone with an amputation, a cleft palate, or any sort of abnormal appearance is unworthy of love. Apparently, there is no room in their hearts even if the circumstances were beyond the control of the individual. I’d like to ask them if soldiers coming home from battle are worthy having sacrificed their limbs to war rather than to a birth defect.

Maybe I am over-reacting, given the circumstance of the person they were discussing, it could have been a heat of the moment comment. But it didn’t feel like that. It felt ugly and mean. To be honest, there are probably a lot of people saying this right now and they think it’s okay. They think that because Pistorius committed a crime, they now have a free pass to mock him, his appearance and anything else they can come up with. What they don’t realize is that they are mocking more than Pistorius. They are mocking everyone with a disability. You can’t say Pistorius doesn’t deserve a girl because of his legs without saying it about anyone missing thier legs. It’s not possible. Either amputees are lovable or they are not.

Pistorius could be unlovable for a reason specific only to him and his behavior, but that is not what is being singled out. What is being singled out is that he is an amputee. It’s cold, callous and unnecessary. what if he, like Brandon, had an insulin pump? Would people say, “Why would he kill her? A guy like that should be grateful to have any girl, he’s got an insulin pump. I can’t imagine women are beating down his door.”? Maybe they would.

Are they simply looking for a reason to justify their dislike of him because it’s easier than accepting that he may be a murderer? Whatever the reason, I don’t think it’s acceptable. Because Steenkamp is gone, we’ll never know what really happened that night, she can’t tell us. If that night never happened, would the same people be saying this? Some of them would, that is how narrow-minded they are.

While you are watching the trial, don’t judge Pistorius on his disability, judge him on his person and his actions. When you are going about your day-to-day business, don’t base your opinions of others on the way their handicap. Their quality of life and ability to find love and happiness is the same as yours. Maybe that person in the wheelchair will find love before you because they are funnier or smarter than you. Maybe their right person came along before yours. Whatever the reason, we all deserve love and happiness no matter what cards we have been dealt.

How often have you heard people comment a person’s disability being the reason they shouldn’t be loved?

Please note: this is simply a commentary on his disability, not my belief in his innocence or guilt.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    By saying those things, they definitely made this case about something it isn’t. And they were being completely insensitive and mean. Having a disability or medical difficulty in your life is not a reason to be “unlovable” and it is disgusting that in 2014, people are still saying things like that.
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  2. brett says

    well, I do believe he was lucky to find love. I think we ALL are lucky to find love. I don’t care how many legs you have, if you kill someone, you need to pay the time!

  3. Helene Cohen Bludman says

    This just goes to show that more education is needed about people with disabilities. It’s good that you raised this issue because that is the first step to creating more understanding.

  4. says

    I think you are talking apples and oranges. Two JD’s trying to be funny made an inappropriate remark, as these people often do for their ratings. But many experts still believe Pistorius got an advantage in the Olympics and track races by being permitted to run with prosthetics. He was made a hero in South Africa and attained world-wide adulation. Now he is being tried for a brutal murder. He was released on bond. Would a normal murderer get such treatment? Or did his disability actually enable him to benefit? No, the real question is whether he is a cold and calculated murderer. His disability should not benefit him or detract from his rights. Pistorius got more love and attention than most people get in a lifetime. Let’s not ignore his acts while we pity his condition.
    The two DJ’s may have spoken immaturely but the real focus is on his guilt or innocence and I hope he gets what any ordinary citizen or human being gets in the end; namely justice for his actions.

    • Karen says

      Hi Harold! I agree with most of what you said! The context of their conversation was odd to me. It didn’t seem like it was funny or for ratings, I think that’s why it stuck with me. I am definitely not ignoring his actions, frankly his condition has no bearing on it one way or the other if you ask me. He should be treated like anyone else in his situation. And I do hope that justice is served. I used him as an example of the stigma issues because it seemed easier to understand. The commentary was so blatant. Too many people have a stigma attached because of how they look. This is just one that is in the forefront. Regardless of what he did, these comments simply shouldn’t be made. They affect all amputees.

    • Karen says

      I agree, Unfortunately, because he is in a negative spotlight, so will his disability. People will think they have carte blanche to mock amputees.

  5. says

    This is the first I’d heard of this case. It’s a sad commentary on our society that this kind of attitude is so prevalent and worse is blasted from our radio stations. I think the awareness you are spreading by sharing your perspective on your blog in comendable. If only more people would treat others with the same level of respect and consideration they expect, the world would be a different place. Bullying 101.
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    • Karen says

      Thanks, it is disappointing that people feel the need to say these kinds of things, even if it’s for ratings. Too many people take what they say to heart. They are doing so much damage.

  6. says

    I think they were probably saying that precisely because it was a radio show and it would cause controversy. They’re supposed to create buzz and ratings and I’m sure you weren’t the only only one offended by the remarks and talking about. I’m not justifying it, because it’s still a nasty thing to say, but I’m not surprised they said it.
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