The death this week of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking was mourned by millions of fans around the world. His passing also prompted several important conversations about how his disabilities should be discussed in the media, especially in the context of his remarkable professional achievements.
Several disability advocates on Twitter, such as Alice Wong, recommended writers “avoid subjective language” such as “suffered from ALS” and focus on Hawking’s scientific contributions without turning them into “inspiration porn.” Andrew Gurza, a self-described “Professional Queer Cripple” and creator of the podcast “Disability After Dark” wrote an opinion essay for Men’s Health explaining why wheelchair use shouldn’t be described as “confining” or something Hawking was “freed from.”
In an article for the Los Angeles Times, science reporter Jessica Roy quotes several disability experts who agreed Hawking’s advocacy for disability awareness should be more visible. In an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio Lawrence Carter-Long emphasized that Hawking didn’t “overcome his disability to achieve the things he did,” but instead he accomplished them “while he was disabled.”