Laura Pettenuzzo smiling to camera

We’re not here for your inspiration

We’re delighted to welcome Laura Pettenuzzo as a guest blogger. Laura is a writer with cerebral palsy and a disability advocate living on Wurundjeri country. Passionate about accessibility, Laura writes Plain and Easy English content for various organisations, and her words have appeared in places like ABC, SBS and The Age. 

A couple of years ago, I went to my local chemist to get my flu vaccine. The chemist was only a few hundred metres away from my house, so I decided to walk rather than maneuver my bulky electric wheelchair along the narrow footpath.

I recall the moment the man behind the counter registered my disability. His expression transformed into one of pity and sadness. He ushered me to a seat, putting one hand on my back as though he was afraid I might fall over without him.

I’m nearly 30 years old, which this man knew, because he confirmed my date of birth before giving me the vaccine. But he spoke to me as though I were a child, with a level of condescension that made me want to recoil. He asked what disability I had, if I needed medication for my spasms and if I was in pain. Not wanting to be rude, I gave the shortest answers I could.

“Good job,” he said to me, once he’d given me the vaccine. “Well done, Super Laura.”

This man was undoubtedly well-meaning, and I appreciate the intention of his actions. But I am not “super” or “special” or anything remarkable because I went to the chemist to get a vaccination. Nor am I particularly special because I happen to be living with physical and psychosocial disability.

The man at the chemist embodied something called ‘inspiration po*n’. This is when people without disability believe that those of us who are disabled are exceptional or amazing or “brave” because of the “tragedy” of our circumstances.

This kind of objectifying behaviour strips us of our individuality and humanity. That man at the chemist didn’t consider me a whole, multidimensional person. He saw a girl with disability, an object of pity.

I will not be reduced to an object by that man or by anyone else. My cerebral palsy and my mental illness mean that I might ask for accommodations if I need them, certainly. But asking for those accommodations and having my access needs met does not in any way negate the fact that I am an adult with the right to be treated with the same courtesy as anyone else. I was a patient at that chemist entitled to the same level of privacy as anyone else.

Objectifying disability doesn’t always come from strangers. It can come from friends and family too, and that can be trickier to tackle. I’ve had conversations with my loved ones about this, and they’ve mostly been receptive. It’s given them an opportunity to reflect on how they think of me and of disability more broadly.

I hope other people with cerebral palsy can have those conversations too. And if you’re a family member or friend of someone with CP, I hope that you can be open to those conversations and the learning and growth that can result.