Overcoming the supercrip stereotype
(Episode 1.5)


Most of us have dreamed of having a superpower before. Usually it is a quality like super strength, mind reading or time control.

For those with disabilities, simply succeeding “despite a disability” can be seen as a superpower on its own – and this expectation can make life more difficult for them.


Expectations should be fair

Most societies have an idea of what is fair. For example, it is not fair to expect a turtle to win a race against a dog or rabbit. Instead, we have fair expectations, such as assuming that two people can succeed if they have identical privileges, tools and chances.

However, when it comes to people with disabilities, expectations are often skewed – either they are seen as unable to work or go to school, or they are expected to overcome barriers and obstacles like a “supercrip.”

In particular, the supercrip stereotype causes society to think that people with disabilities can do much more than the average person. This unreasonable expectation is often met only by those with amazing talent, which leaves everyone else behind.

What is the supercrip stereotype?

A supercrip is a person whose worth depends on how he/she overcomes a disability. That person alone is responsible for succeeding, while ignoring other issues like discrimination and accessibility.

This stereotype assumes that everyone with a disability has the tools and qualities to make their lives work, if they simply tried hard enough or have the determination. Of course, not all disabilities are the same and everyone has different privileges, which makes it all problematic.

There is also the notion that disability is to be overcome, rather than another way to experience life. Many people are able to live with their disabilities and manage them – in other words, disability is not always seen as a problem that needs a solution. It is simply part of community diversity.

Supercrip and the medical model of disability

There is a close relationship between the supercrip stereotype and the medical model of disability (see the chapter What is Disability?).

The medical model of disability sees a person’s medical condition as the main problem that needs solving, in order to live a full life. It lacks the focus on society’s issues with discrimination and accessibility.

Similarly, the supercrip stereotype demands that people with disabilities overcome those societal issues in order to be successful.

The non-disability population is not seen as responsible for accommodating those with disabilities, who can succeed “if they just try hard enough.”

This creates a situation where people with disabilities seemingly need superhuman abilities in order to “overcome” and get anywhere in life. Being average is not good enough.

Supercrip and inspiration porn

The supercrip stereotype is also related to inspiration porn (see the chapter When is disability not “inspirational”?), which sees everyday accomplishments of people with disabilities as “inspirational.”

Supercrips are people who are expected to do extraordinary things to overcome their disabilities. This feeds into the idea that people with disabilities are there to “inspire” others – besides, what is more heroic than overcoming a great challenge like a disability? The idea is that disability is a negative thing that needs to be defeated, rather than something that someone can adjust to and live with.

Just like the medical model of disability, the ideas of supercrips and inspiration porn take away society’s responsibility to be more accessible and inclusive, and expects people with disabilities to simply be determined enough to create their own opportunities.

A supercrip sets a standard that others with disabilities are expected to follow, regardless of whether it is realistic or even desired. It is important to remember that not everyone with a disability wants or needs to be a supercrip to be happy or successful in life.

Summary

The supercrip is a positive stereotype that exposes assumptions about disability. When a supercrip “overcomes” a disability, it suggests that disability is something bad that needs to be defeated, rather than a normal part of diversity in our world.

By comparing everyday people with disabilities to supercrips, society is placing unreasonable expectations on to them that would not apply to the non-disability population. For example, if a person in a wheelchair becomes a professor, would we expect everyone else in a wheelchair to be one too, simply because “if he can do it, you can too”?

Many also forget that supercrips often have some privileges that others do not have, such as living in an accessible city, access to wealth, stable employment, educational opportunities, family support and strong peer networks.

While many in the non-disability population can easily obtain these qualities, it is significantly tougher for those with disabilities due to discrimination and lack of accessibility. As a result, it is more complex than simply “overcoming” these challenges, since it also requires cooperation from non-disability communities.


For research sources for all of the information above, please download this lesson This download in in PDF format.

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