What it shouldn’t mean, though, is pity or exploitation. Picture this: Average high school student asks disabled or seriously ill student to prom, usually with photos and video being posted to social media. Clicks, shares, likes and comments full of cutesy clichés ensue.
In nearly every case, the intent is good. I believe people have become more willing to embrace their differences, and typical kids not thinking anything of asking medically challenged classmates to prom is a sign of progress. But people who face debilitating, life-threatening medical conditions just might feel left out of the storytelling arc, like a throwaway overshadowed by the able-bodied “hero” of the story.
Mike Mort (pictured right) is just one blogger who wants us to think more about the disabled student. His blog post, Pity and the Prom, prompted an interview with Carol Off, host of As It Happens. He makes the point that the promposal itself isn’t the problem: It’s the way media portrays them, and the way society consumes them.
"It's not that these stories exist, it's the way that they're told. It frames the abled person asking the disabled person as a hero – almost as if they're performing an act of charity. "
Even before his interview about the topic or his blog post, I had spoken with Mike a few times and been impressed with his honesty and optimism. When I saw his name in the story, I knew he was the right person to put some honest perspective into the disabled promposal phenomenon.
"Disabled people just want to be seen as everyone else,” said in his interview. “Interacting with us is not special or heroic. It's just interacting with another human being who happens to be disabled."
Mike is exactly the right person to speak about this. His junior prom date was his best friend. Neither of them would’ve made a big deal of it.
“My personal experience could have easily been used as a sappy human-interest piece, when in actuality in was a fairly average story,” Mike writes.
In other words, they were just two high school kids doing what high school kids do. Medical condition and mobility were only a small bit of the picture – friendship was the main focus.
Jess, who publishes Diary of a Mom and has an autistic daughter, aligns with Mike’s thoughts. She is not happy to see what she calls the “popular hero (or heroine)” lionized.
“The other kid?” she writes. “Is incidental. One-dimensional. An afterthought. Worse, a prop.”
Jess brings it all to a powerful conclusion that will always stick with me when prom season rolls around:
“These stories are everywhere and it’s easy to get wrapped up in them. It’s even easier to share them. But before you do, I beseech you to ask yourself how it would feel to read them from the disabled person’s point of view. If you were the woman no one even bothered to interview. If you were the kid with no last name. If you were the one who no one could believe the cheerleader would ask to the prom. The one who no one reading those articles could ever think might end up being the actual girlfriend or boyfriend of their one-time, feel-good date.
“How would it feel?”