Hailed by the masses as a genius, Ken Jennings holds the title of the longest running contestant on the American game-show Jeopardy! He’s making headlines once again, but this time it’s for his stupidity and close mindedness rather than his intelligence.
Back in 2014, Ken Jennings tweeted, “Nothing is sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair”, and, despite the dismay of the internet, still refuses to retract his words, apologise and delete the tweet.
The tweet gained traction again over the weekend, and, soon after, hundreds of wheelchair users were flooding the twitter feed with photos of themselves and their mobility device under the hashtag #HotPersonInAWheelchair
The hashtag was started by Annie Segarra (@annieelainey) when she replied to Jennings and tweeted out a photo of herself, simply captioned “Cry about it, babe”. Dozens upon dozens of wheelchair users then followed her lead and posted pictures with cutting, witty captions.
Seeing a comment like this, tweeted by a user with a Twitter verified blue check beside their name, shocked me. I’m more used to the subtle kind of ableism, like when random people on the street throw pitying glances my way or say things like “God bless you!”. I wasn’t shocked about the ableism: I see it nearly every day. Instead, I was disturbed by how outright this was. Not to mention the fact that Jennings tweeted the offensive comment out four years ago, and feels comfortable enough to leave the tweet sitting on his profile and representing his thoughts.
Last Sunday night as the hashtag spread to international Twitter users, I eagerly joined in on the communal joy and festivities, and began to trawl through my photos to find some to tweet out. I’ve been using my wheelchair for just over a year and a half now, but I could only find two photos in the last 17 months in which I was using a wheelchair. For a young woman in her early twenties, I don’t think I have nearly as many photos as I should.
It is comments and sentiments exactly like Jennings’ that have crushed my ego and self worth down to the point that I can’t bear to look at photos of myself in my wheelchair. I think about why I don’t consider myself to be “hot”, and can say that it is mostly down to ableism like this. It goes without saying that ableism like this is detrimental to confidence and self-worth. In a society where looks are everything, it is easy to feel like nothing as a result of comments like Jennings’.
Looking through the Twitter hashtag filled me with joy and the newfound urge to take more photos of myself. Seeing the confidence and beauty of the disabled community is inspiring, and I really encourage those with similar mindsets to Jennings to take a look and change their attitude. The disabled community on Twitter retaliated against disgusting ableism and created a communal sense of confidence for all involved.
Even though the tweet in question is four years old, the sentiment itself is not old at all. It still remains on the internet as a reminder of the ableism that can be seen everyday in our society and on social media. Jennings’ refusal to remove the tweet or to apologise sincerely for his action only contributes to society’s sometimes nonchalant attitude when it comes to discrimination against those with disabilities. It’s easy to imagine somebody young and impressionable seeing that tweet and thinking “If a celebrity can say it, why can’t everyone else?”
The disabled community on Twitter retaliated against disgusting ableism and created a communal sense of confidence for all involved. Shame on Ken Jennings for thinking such a thing in the first place, and even more shame on him for refusing to retract it. You’d think that after four years, he’d have more sense, but no such luck.
This tweet has taught us two things: Firstly, that ableism is alive and kicking, and, secondly, people with disabilities are strong, confident and intelligent.