On New Years Day 2022, Avengers actor Jeremy Renner suffered horrific injuries while protecting a family member from a snowplow accident, almost losing his leg as a result. In the months since the accident, he has been using various mobility aids to support his recovery, including a wheeled scooter that the injured leg rests on while remaining upright to move around. He used such a scooter when attending the premier for a new show of which he was the host, and despite the fact that his accident was hardly a secret and that his name and face was plastered on every poster in sight, the organisers saw no issue placing a step in the middle of the red (or in this case blue) carpet.
When inspiration porn type videos of his “heroic efforts” to recover were posted online, multiple disabled people highlighted the unnecessary step in the blue, myself included. The video I posted shows footage of Renner wrestling the scooter up the step, before it cuts to my unamused face with accompanying text highlighting that you shouldn’t be surprised when disabled people face inaccessibility, when a Hollywood star cannot even get a ramp. The video went viral on both TikTok and Facebook.
As is always the case when a social media post garners an unusually high amount of attention, buried among the supportive comments were the more malicious ones. There were people who said that Renner didn’t struggle, which is quite plainly not true. There were others who complained about me “complaining”. Some said that the injured person using a mobility aid didn’t count as being disabled. However, most troubling of all were the comments about how Renner didn’t deserve a ramp because he had abused his now ex-wife.
I wasn’t aware of the accusations of abuse before making the video, and while it has certainly changed my opinion of the actor, it doesn’t change my belief that a ramp should have been provided. The ability to move around your environment safely is a right, not an exclusive perk reserved for those deemed to be deserving.
Unfortunately, the idea of removing accessibility for the undeserving is a worryingly common attitude displayed by even those who consider themselves to be tolerant and unprejudiced. You don’t have to search for very long to uncover a multitude of stories of school-children who have had devices such as insulin pumps, hearing aids, or computers that assist reading and writing removed for being a “distraction”. While I personally managed to escape such incidents, I once witnessed a friend who, in response to talking back to the teacher, had the batteries of their powered wheelchair unplugged; I would argue that removing their ability to move independently and potentially damaging a very expensive piece of equipment is not an acceptable punishment for even the poorest behaviour.
Even outside of school, inaccessibility as part of a punishment still persists. Everyone, even the very worst people imaginable, deserve a fair and proper trial. Despite this notion being commonly accepted, courtrooms are often physically inaccessible with random steps littering the room. Worse still are the countless defendants unable to defend themselves at all, simply because sign language interpretation was not provided and handcuffs not undone to allow them to communicate. Whenever inaccessibility in court is raised as an issue, however, it is waved off as unimportant because disabled defendants apparently don’t deserve a fair defense.
It’s bad enough that in certain circles, becoming disabled can be viewed as punishment for your sins, but for the removal basic human rights to be deemed an acceptable punishment if the culprit just so happens to be disabled or injured is truly horrifying. There is indeed injustice in that Renner has seemed to get away scot-free in the face of such serious yet down-played allegations, especially when Black co-star Jonathan Majors was arrested and is dealing with a potentially career-ending scandal for a similar offense (they should both be facing those consequences for their actions). That doesn’t make it acceptable to risk worsening an already serious injury by failing to put out a ramp.
It may seem strange, but in some ways I actually prefer the comments claiming I made a fuss over nothing, that I was simply a “fragile snowflake” and that a video of inaccessibility was a bad choice for making a video about inaccessibility. To me, far worse are those who claim to be tolerant and kind who also see no problem with inaccessibility being used as a punishment. If you want to make disabled people feel safe and included, threatening to exploit your privilege and remove their independence if they do something you don’t like, simply because you can, is something you may wish to reflect on. If the punishment should fit the crime, then there is no crime tantamount to that punishment.