On the 15th January, Katie Price shared the news that her 18-year-old son, Harvey, would be looking for a place at a residential college to join in September. Harvey Price is partially blind, autistic, and has Prader-Willi syndrome. He is also the subject of various ableist headlines that have been published, not only as a response to last month’s news but throughout recent years.
As the news broke, a flurry of such headlines were shared on Twitter. Metro announced, ‘Katie Price heartbroken as she decides to put Harvey, 18, into care.’ The Independent wrote, ‘Katie Price reveals she’s putting son Harvey into full-time care.’ Sky News opted for ‘Katie Price says sending disabled son into care is ‘heartbreaking,’ neglecting to mention Harvey by name altogether. In all versions of the story, one thing is made quite clear: in this story, Harvey Price’s autonomy is not important.
None of these headlines stray from the idea that Katie Price is completely in charge of where Harvey is ‘put’, even as the clips shared from her documentary alongside the announcements show the pair of them looking around colleges together. Harvey is mentioned as an entirely passive entity. This objectification sidelines him in the decision-making process, and bolsters the ableist idea that disabled people lack autonomy simply by virtue of being disabled and thus having different needs. The narrative we are told is that disabled people are unable to decide what the best thing for them is; Harvey needs his non-disabled mother to pick an environment for him, as he is unable to pick one for himself.
Yet there is no reason to believe Harvey does not understand the positive impacts a care environment could have on him. The ableist attitudes towards care stem partially from a misconception of what care means. When disabled people enter care homes or supported living arrangements, it is the opposite of passivity; it is a way to gain independence, by being in an environment where their needs are catered for and they are supported to pursue whatever areas of their life they may choose. There are doubts as to whether the care system truly operates in this way; the abuse that took place at Winterbourne View rightly put the Care Quality Commission under scrutiny and built concern that the government was careless in its responsibility to keep its disabled citizens safe. It also pointed out the danger in what happens when we don’t listen to disabled voices.
Disabled people deserve to have their voices heard. They deserve to be visible in society. They deserve the right to their own privacy. Every headline positioned Katie as a vision of saintly motherhood. Sky News’ headline failed to even address Harvey by name. Centring Katie in the narrative contributes to the invisibility of disabled people in society. A story about Harvey, a disabled adult, becomes the story of a non-disabled mother being the long-suffering caretaker of a disabled child.
Her feelings dominate the headlines – the story is ‘devastating’, ‘heart-wrenching,’ and in her own words, ‘heartbreaking.’ She is entitled to these feelings, but they are being weaponised to weave the narrative into a tale of tragedy. How does Harvey feel? Is he really the helpless victim, clutched so deep in the throes of his villainous disability that he requires saving? Does he view joining a residential college as being locked up in a tower, safe from danger, and, more importantly, keeping the world safe from him? Almost certainly not. But no-one asked him anyway.
This is a story written by non-disabled people, read by non-disabled people, and rooted in ableism. What could have been an opportunity for a better understanding of what it means to navigate adulthood as a disabled person became instead another tool of the oppression we live under. Disabled people do not deserve the ‘othering,’ the infantilisation, and the shaming that dominated reactions to those headlines, and the headlines themselves.
The media exploits disabled people day after day, wringing out clickbait stories and inspiration porn while leaving their humanity out of it. Disabled people are told that their stories don’t matter until they are exceptional, or, in the case of Harvey Price, until they are told by a non-disabled hero. Someone ‘brave and honest,’ who the media can martyr. People gather round to pity non-disabled parents and paint their children as burdens. Katie didn’t deserve the trolls, as Grazia and Sense rightfully pointed out, but Harvey didn’t deserve to have his voice, autonomy, and privacy cast aside.
How do we combat ableism when it is so ingrained in our institutions? The answer lies in community. Cathy Kamara (@thatsinglemum) asked on her Instagram story why ‘non-disabled parents of disabled kids look to a celebrity… for support rather than another non-disabled parent of a disabled kid they could find through networks, associations and charities to do with their child’s disabilities.’
Responses to the story catalogued issues surrounding shame in asking for help, and how this shame is weaponised by institutions. The way to battle ableism is by showing each other there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Media headlines are a vehicle for the voice of the system, which booms down on us day after day with its insidious messaging. But we must not forget we have our own voices. We must not forget disabled people are worth listening to. We must not forget that what we have to say, someone is waiting to hear, and to hold, and to learn from. Change is born out of education and organisation, but in order for these things to happen, we must listen to each other and come together. With the opportunity social media offers to share your experiences and find others who are with you, there is no need to listen to the system’s voice anymore. Instead, we can speak against it. We can learn to listen. We can tell our own stories.
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