You know why? Because, all too often, characters with disabilities appear in pop media as one-dimensional fictional entities, lazily "developed" by having what I call compensatory strengths. Such compensatory strengths are supposed to sort of narratively cancel out the characters’ disabilities, but this never happens. In fact, the compensatory gifts just highlight the characters’ disabilities even more so that the characters, instead of being well-rounded, interesting individuals, end up being portrayed solely in terms of their disabilities.
To get an idea of what I’m talking about with compensatory gifts, look at a few characters from comics and movies. The X-Men’s Professor Xavier, who has mobility impairments requiring the use of an electric wheelchair, "compensates" by having a mutation that allows him to basically move mentally among all the mutants on the globe. Another comic superhero, Daredevil, gets blinded by radioactive waste, but conveniently compensates by developing his non-sight senses to superhuman levels. Another character with blindness, from the movies this time, is Ivy, protagonist of M. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 movie The Village, who is blind, but somehow sees the goodness in people instead. As you can see, in each of these cases, the characters’ super abilities are directly tied to their disabilities. In fact, their super abilities all offer workarounds for their disabilities, effectively canceling out the characters’ disabilities.
In an especially egregious example of compensatory endowment, Daphne from Heroes has the power of superspeed. Somehow her zippiness "compensates for" and overrides her cerebral palsy, which is a disability so shameful that, when she loses her speed and has to go back to wearing leg braces [THE HORROR!] and using crutches [OH WOE!] in 3.10, "The Eclipse, Part I," she hides from the entire world in ignominy. In Heroes, Daphne’s CP is equated with tragedy, limitation, reclusivity, sadness and rejection. Her compensatory gift, super speed, provides her with glamour, adventure, riches and happiness. Yet, though she may seem to have some interesting contrast between her past, disabled self and her current, speedy self, she really doesn’t. Heroes, like all other lazy pieces of pop culture artwork that use the trope of compensatory strengths, shows no interest in exploring the psychological flux that might realistically go along with great strengths in one area and great deficits in another. Nope, Heroes just wants to make a dramatically compelling character, so it gives Daphne a tragically crippled [I’m using this word because you can see the show thinking it] past. Wow. That’s so deep.
What the lazy shorthand of compensatory endowment ignores is the simple reality of actual people with actual disabilities, to wit: Amazingly enough, people with disabilities don’t necessarily go around bemoaning the fact that they have disabilities. In fact, people with disabilities are much more likely to bemoan the ignorance, stupidity and inaccessibility of people and institutions. Some people with disabilities even accept that they have disabilities and, instead of "overcoming" them or "compensating" for them, accept their disabilities as a fact of life and go on about their business. And, stupendously enough, when you take a look at the types of lives that people with disabilities are living, they’re not, at base, fundamentally different from the lives of people without disabilities [although people with disabilities do daily battle with ableist people and institutions that may not be apparent to people without disabilities].
Ya know — sometimes characters with disabilities are just your average, normal, run-of-the-mill people who DON’T feel the need for pity-based super-endowments given to them by lazy, paternalistic, condescending creators to soothe the supposed horrid angst that characters with disabilities have over not being people without disabilities. Newsflash to dipshits: Creating a disabled character with a "compensatory" ability is not inspiring, unusual, original or desirable. By making a character’s notable traits the narrative inverse of his or her disability, you still end up defining the character by his or her disability, and that is a dehumanizing, reductionist simplification demonstrating only your limited, shallow imagination and your inability to see people with disabilities as people first.