You are probably aware of a powerful and wealthy movie producer named Harvey Weinstein who is finally facing trial for multiple counts of sexual assault.
In New York, he is charged with first-degree rape, two counts of predatory sexual assault, one count of first-degree sexual assault and one count of third-degree rape, and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has also filed charges against Weinstein for forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force and sexual battery by restraint. It’s an ugly case, and well overdue after decades of allegations.
You may also have seen the images of Weinstein arriving to court using a walker. Much has been made of this last item, with many openly assuming he is “faking it” and does not need the mobility aid.
Page Six ran a piece about how Weinstein was spotted without his walker, asking if he is using it only for sympathy. Vice even asked a doctor about it, under the headline: “We Asked a Doctor If Harvey Weinstein Really Needs That Walker – Is he just trying to drum up sympathy as his trial begins this week?” Locally, Whimn has published on how “it seems a rape trial really limits mobility”.
As a writer who has used a mobility aid on and off since a hip injury in 2016, and who speaks out on the importance of normalising mobility aids, I am well aware of how narratives around “faking disability for personal gain” impact everyday people in the form of harassment and abuse. That’s why this thing with the walker needs talking about.
Although I don’t agree with the recent statement made by Weinstein’s lawyer, Donna Rotunno, that women may come to regret the #MeToo movement so integral to the cases brought against her client “when no one asks them out on a date”, the accused’s legal team says he needs the walker.
Would I put it past Weinstein to employ any and all tactics to garner sympathy during this trial? No. But when we see people using a walker and immediately call out “faker!”, we perpetuate the idea that people who use walkers ought to be viewed as objects of pity and we encourage an already strong and deeply damaging narrative around faking disability for personal gain.
This is not a defence of Weinstein, this is a defence of mobility aids.
People without medical degrees, and often without any understanding of disability or the correct use of mobility aids, position themselves as a kind of all knowing disability police, harassing people they deem to be able-bodied or “not disabled enough”, offering everything from dirty looks, to hurled abuse, to calling the police or leaving rude or humiliating notes left on cars parked in disabled spots with permits in full view, like the large sticker that said “Stupidity is not a disability!” left plastered across a disabled woman’s windshield despite the accessible parking permit clipped to the visor. (The woman has brittle bone disease, and couldn’t even scrape it off her car.)
This prominent trope is not only responsible for daily harassment of people with disabilities and injuries, but also erases disability and illness. By branding them fakers, you erase the disability around you.
There are a wide range of disabilities – particularly invisible disabilities – and conditions that make using mobility aids or disabled parking spots necessary, or make it necessary to use that airline pre-board, as comedian Andy Richter discovered after being schooled on Twitter for calling out a supposed “faker” to his over one million followers in a tweet since deleted.
“Just saw a guy, I kid you not, walk up to the gate, hear they were boarding only people with disabilities at the moment, and he faked a limp and got on the plane,” Richter wrote.
While a lot of his followers piped in with stories about how they also saw people and “just knew” who had “real” disabilities, the disabled community had some other things to say, noting there are a lot of reasons why limps may come and go.
And for that matter, there are a lot of reasons why someone might use one mobility aid one day, and a different one another and, on other days, none at all. No matter your age, the body is not static. Mobility aid users often talk about using “the right tool for the right job”. What will they encounter when they go out? Will there be seating? Places to rest? Handrails? Queues? How is their pain level today? Their energy?
Pictures have circulated of Weinstein not using the walker, but those who take that as proof he’s a faker don’t understand how disability, injuries or walking aids work.
Mobility aids aren’t like a cast a doctor puts on you until you are well. A person who can’t walk at all generally needs a wheelchair to be mobile, therefore a person using a walking aid can walk without it, it’s just that it may be riskier or more painful for them to do so, limiting their functioning and abilities, sometimes severely. Seeing Weinstein without his walker at any particular moment in time is irrelevant. (Seeing him carrying furniture around would be rather a different matter.)
Weinstein – who recently had spinal surgery after a car crash in August last year – uses a walker on and off at the moment. Do I have a shred of sympathy for him? Hell no.
Mobility aids are a normal part of life, and have been for centuries. And all kinds of people use them – even predators.
Tara Moss is the author of 13 books.