By Ben Mattlin: When I heard that Prof. Stephen Hawking had died, at seventy-six (March 14), my first question was, What of? The media and general public seemed to assume that his disability had finally caught up with him. Perhaps it had, but I wanted to make sure. I have a similar disability. Mine is spinal muscular atrophy type 2, a progressive neuromuscular weakness that’s practically indistinguishable from Hawking’s "motor neurone [sic.] disease," as the UK’s Guardian newspaper put it (most other sources dubbed his a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS).
By Ben Mattlin: Back in 2012, I had the good fortune of publishing a book. That book. You know, the one able-bodied people are always telling crips to do because they’re sure it would be “so inspirational!”—in short, a memoir about growing up with a severe disability and somehow prospering. Indeed, being unable to walk or even scratch my nose hadn’t prevented me from going to Harvard. I was one of the first quadriplegics to matriculate, if not the first (bragging rights not yet fully established). It hadn’t prevented me from marrying (and staying married for twenty-six years now, and counting), having two delightful children, and forging a career as a freelance journalist. But of course, you already know all that, if you’ve read my first book.
By Ben Mattlin: In mid-October, disability-rights activists were justifiably outraged and dismayed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ latest action. According to the Washington Post, the Trump appointee had rescinded seventy-two policy documents related to the rights of students with disabilities. So heated were the reactions on social media and elsewhere that, a few days later, the Education Department tried to allay fears by explaining that the intent was merely to eliminate redundancies and outdated language. The changes, a department spokesperson said, would have zero effect on students with disabilities. But if they had zero effect, why bother?