End the “Better Dead than Disabled” Trope

by Dinah Aguilar ’19

After celebrity theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking’s death many other celebrities and Twitter users started sharing pictures and quotes as a tribute to him. With his motor neuron disease and ALS he was forced into a wheelchair at the age of 27. This did not stop him though as Hawking went on to become a professor of mathematics at Cambridge and uncover information about black holes.

Along with many other celebrities, Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot tweeted a tribute to the physicist but was caught under fire for saying “Rest in peace Dr. Hawking. Now you’re free of any physical constraints.. Your brilliance and wisdom will be cherished forever.” What Gadot failed to realize was that his physical condition did not constrain him at all.

Though Gadot and many others tweets were not meant to be ableist, people needs to remember that it ties into the rhetoric of “Stephen Hawking is now free of his wheelchair now that he is dead.” This becomes highly problematic since it reinforces the “better dead than disabled” trope. People with disabilities should not wish for death to be free of their challenges.