Like Sex Education's Isaac, people think I hate my life because I'm disabled

‘I’m reading this book that says art can help process trauma and I’m on a healing journey,’ said Sex Education’s Aimee Gibbs (played by Aimee Lou Wood) to wheelchair user Isaac Goodwin (George Robinson) in the first episode of season four. 

She added: ‘Is that why you do art? To process trauma? ‘Cause you’re disabled?’ 

Isaac shot back a look of disbelief, then retorted sarcastically: ‘Yes, I’m looking to find catharsis from the daily emotional torture of being in a wheelchair through the magical outlet of painting.’ 

Before later adding: ‘I don’t need anything to help because I’m actually very happy with my life. I do art because I like painting. 

‘But thank you very much for your ableist projection.’ 

As a disabled wheelchair user myself, I loved this scene. 

A stranger once said to my face: ‘I’d rather be dead than be in a wheelchair’

It was short and to the point, but showed how a simple exchange – even with good intentions – can be an ableist microaggression towards a disabled person. 

Unfortunately, it happens all the time.

For almost 10 years, I’ve been an ambulatory wheelchair user, but I’ve been disabled since I was a teenager. 

I have hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) which is a genetic connective tissue disorder that means I dislocate joints, tear ligaments, pull muscles and tendons easily – my skin is hyper-elastic, and my organs are affected. 

Despite also having many other conditions, hEDS is my primary one – I suffer from chronic pain due to this.

My first experiences of ableism were at school, when I was bullied for using crutches. I had them kicked from underneath me and was called ‘peg leg’.

Often, I was deliberately left out of social events, but I didn’t realise it was ableism at the time as I didn’t know there was a name for it.

I always felt like an outsider and it was difficult to find my voice.

It wasn’t until I was 26 that I realised that I needed a wheelchair full-time and that I should have been using one for a long time before that.  

Since then, I’ve had so many cruel things hurled at me.

A stranger once said to my face: ‘I’d rather be dead than be in a wheelchair’.  

I was shocked, and froze. I was a new wheelchair user at the time, and I’m not the type to make a scene so I got myself out of the situation. I felt overwhelmed, uncomfortable, and outraged.

I cried that night. They believed my life was so worthless that they would rather die than live it. 

I’ve also had people tell me that I’m brave for being out on my own – asking where my carer is, assuming I’m unable to look after myself because I’m a wheelchair user.

‘You’re so pretty, for a wheelchair user,’ someone else has said.

Also, when I’m out with my boyfriend, people talk to him instead of me – as if I don’t exist.  

That’s why Isaac’s clapback to Aimee felt so refreshing.

In all her innocence – through four seasons of watching her, we have seen her as pure, kind, and good intentioned – Aimee genuinely believed that Isaac must hate his life because he’s disabled. 

She assumed he must have some trauma to work through and it must be linked to his disability.

But instead of getting defensive at being called out, Aimee sheepishly asked: ‘Did I just say the wrong thing?’

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I feel that she made her ignorant comment from being uneducated, not out of malice. 

Although this isn’t acceptable, she recognised straight away she’d said the wrong thing and didn’t put up a fight, like some.

I think ableism is so deeply-rooted in society that people think becoming disabled is the worst thing that can happen to them. 

They believe that all disabled people must have so much trauma and resentment over our lives, that we sit at home pining over what could have been.

But this is far from the truth. 

My life is not worthless. It is filled with love, happiness and so much fun. 

I have an amazing boyfriend that treats me like a queen and all we do is laugh and have the best time together.

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My family and friends are incredible, and yes, I may use a wheelchair but like Isaac said, I’m actually very happy with my life. 

In order to change perceptions from non-disabled people, I wish more of them saw us thriving, living, and loving our lives. 

The advice I would give them would be to learn what ableist microaggressions are – they *can* appear positive, and can be as simple as ‘you are so brave,’ ‘you’re so pretty for a wheelchair user,’ ‘you are such an inspiration.’ 

I’m not an inspiration for going to the shop on my own, that is patronising. 

I want to see the education system teaching more about disabilities, too – taught by disabled people themselves – so children get first-hand experience of seeing us as normal people.

Had Aimee been educated on how to speak to disabled people, I don’t believe she would have presumed Isaac hated his life.  

Aimee redeems herself by the end of the show and her apology to Isaac is sincere. I enjoyed the interaction between the couple and (spoiler alert) loved that they ended up having a relationship, despite their rocky start.

I applaud the show for including it because it shows how a simple exchange that Aimee thought was well-meaning was saying the wrong thing. It was a teachable moment.

Hopefully it will make people think twice before they assume all disabled are tortured by our lives, and maybe some of us are loving them.

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