International Day of Persons with Disabilities and Kylie Jenner

Today is the 23rd observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPWD). It’s a day I feel that a lot of folks don’t give a lot of thought to. But then again, atypicality–that is, anyone who is not an able-bodied, straight, white cismale–usually means marginalization.

But first, a little history: In 1992, in a vote of 47/3 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed December 3rd of each year the International Day of Disabled Persons. The UN’s purpose in developing IDPWD was to “promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.” On December 18th 2007 the name was changed to the International Day of Persons with Disabilities to reflect changes in terminology within the disability community.

The theme for this year’s IDPWD is inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities. The UN estimates that the

one billion people living with disabilities worldwide face many barriers to inclusion in many key aspects of society. As a result, people with disabilities do not enjoy access to society on an equal basis with others, which includes areas of transportation, employment, and education as well as social and political participation. The right to participate in public life is essential to create stable democracies, active citizenship and reduce inequalities in society.

There are countless examples of how this has and continues to manifest, but a recent example–and one given significant media attention at the moment–involves Kylie Jenner’s recent spread in Interview magazine.

Sitting in a gold-plated wheelchair wearing bondage gear, Jenner is the epitome of able-bodied privilege. I’m not sure how much creative input Jenner had with the photos–not that legitimizes any kind of excuse–but it appears that the point of the photo is for the wheelchair to signify her limitations. For some folks with physical disabilities, a wheelchair is the tool by which they have autonomy and freedom. Likewise, the bondage clothes in the photo imply two things. First, it negates the fact that persons with disabilities are sexual beings with wants and needs like ‘normal’ folks. Second, the clothing in combination with the makeup and Jenner’s vacant stare sexualizes disability in such a way that suggests people with disabilities are helpless, and objectifying disability is permissible.

Thus far, only a fauxpology has been offered by Interview:

The Kylie Jenner cover by Steven Klein, which references the British artist Allen Jones, is a part of this tradition, placing Kylie in a variety of positions of power and control and exploring her image as an object of vast media scrutiny. Throughout the Art Issue, we celebrate a variety of women who are both the creators and subjects of their artistic work, and the Kylie feature aims to unpack Kylie’s status as both engineer of her image and object of attention. Our intention was to create a powerful set of pictures that get people thinking about image and creative expression, including the set with the wheelchair. But our intention was certainly not to offend anyone.

Jenner has not made a comment about the photos, nor offered an apology. I don’t think she will. If she does say something, however, it will likely be more of a fauxpology than a genuine, meaningful apology.

See how ableism champions once again, and why IDPWD is needed. The irony of course of when the magazine was released and its proximity to IDPWD has not been lost on me. Happy IDPWD everyone!

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