"Frustration" is probably the best word that can be used to describe my feeling after watching the film adaptation of JoJo Moyes' Me Before You. The film centers on William Traynor, a man who sustains a disability after an accident, and who ultimately (spoiler) chooses assisted suicide over life in a wheelchair. The film came under fire by critics for perpetuating harmful, inaccurate stereotypes about people with disabilities. Indeed, Me Before You would have us believe that people with quadriplegia are asexual beings who cannot enjoy truly robust lives. And who can't visit Paris for some reason.
Me Before You was clearly written by someone who has little experience with disabilities in the same way that, say, Heart of Darkness was composed by someone who had very little interaction with Congolese natives. I wonder, though, how many students out there would be able to recognize the problematic nature of the text. Or how many would walk away from the film feeling mere pity for those with spinal cord injuries? Likewise, how many students who read John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men are troubled by the ending and skeptical of Steinbeck's portrayal of intellectual disabilities? How many see Lennie as an animal-like creature whose death was inevitable?
How many students have only been exposed to what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls a "single story" about disabilities?
Education provides us with a vehicle for breaking down stereotypes and for exploring difference - or perceived difference. Here is one activity that can help teachers to lay a groundwork for helping students to recognize and counter disability stereotypes.