My Problem With The Sick Kids Campaign

For this week’s blog, I have to go on a rant. You may have seen, if you are part of the Canadian disability community, that Sick Kids (our country's largest Children's Hospital) has a new ad campaign out. The campaign essentially pits the patients, doctors and parents as soldiers going to war against disability and illness. One of the central images of the campaign is a young girl standing victoriously on the top of a mountain of ‘conquered’ wheelchairs. I am not the first to come out against this campaign, nor will I be the last, but as a disability positive advocate I cannot let it go without offering my two cents. So here they are.

Firstly, let me make clear that I have no personal issue with any individual who sees getting over a disability or illness as some sort of victory for them. It is certainly not my view, but it is also not my place to tell them what their view is. The problem is that it is not the only view, and campaigns such as this are hugely reinforcing the idea that disability is negative and needs to be beaten. We should not look at autism, for example, as something that needs to be conquered. If we had conquered it, we would not have most of the geniuses that have graced history. The image of the girl standing atop a pile of dead wheelchairs makes people in my situation, who will never conquer our wheelchairs, look weak. If we really want to go to battle, it should be to ensure policy change for a more inclusive society. Is that not what the end goal in a modern Canada should be?

The Sick Kids campaign is putting forward a hugely problematic narrative about disability, illness and difference. It is sending the wrong message to the youth with disabilities who will never be able to beat their disability in battle. It is also assuming, entirely falsely, that to be cured is the better option. For some, sure, but not for all. I for one would rather fight for equality, fight for change and fight for acceptance of all abilities rather than fight against a disability that has given so much amazingness to my life. Campaigns like this are part of the reason that growing up I never felt fully accepted. Why for years I struggled with my identity as a proud disabled man. I never will be cured and I don't want to be cured. How come that story never gets old with million-dollar ads? Did my wife ‘lose the battle’ by marrying me?

Here is my bottom line. It is always important to me that multiple perspectives on a particular topic are shown and talked about. It is always important to look at things with a critical eye. And I am critical of his latest campaign by a hospital that I respect. Because I do not believe that my disability should be conquered. I believe, instead, that my disability should be celebrated.