Ableism can be defined as the discrimination against people who have disabilities. These disabled individuals fail to manifest the same mental, physical, or intellectual capabilities as those who are fortunate enough to live their life without these restrictions. A majority of disabled people continue to face the challenges of negative attitudes, assumptions and stereotypes in today’s society. The theme of Ableism exists throughout Robert Zemeckis’ film, Forrest Gump. The protagonist Forrest Gump is depicted as a disabled man, both physically and intellectually.
Forrest is constantly made fun of and referred to as “stupid” or the “local idiot”, but he doesn’t let that define him as a person. In all, the film encapsulates how having a disability does not necessarily restrict one’s limit for success.Society has developed a variety of ways to describe the meaning of disability. The way we interpret the term disability is significant because it affects the way people think and behave towards these individuals. The two most frequent models used for defining disability are known as the medical model and the social model.
The medical model represents the traditional way society characterizes disability. Society would understand disability as a medical condition in need of treatment or fixation. Disability in this case is seen as a ‘problem’ that belongs to the disabled individual. It does not seem to concern anyone other than the individual affected.
“Statements such as ‘he can’t read that newspaper because he’s blind’ are an example of people being influenced by the medical model of disability.” The medical model led to stereotyping and defining people by a condition or their limitations. The social model developed in response from the criticism of the medical model of disability. The social model of disability says that “disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people. When barriers are removed, disabled people can be independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives.”(scope) The social model is generally the preferred model when thinking about disability.
Its focus is to normalize disability by suggesting that disability is a social issue and not a personal issue. Although this seems to have become the overlying model, it tends to disregard the reality of the hardships that come with a disability. At the beginning of the film Forrest Gump, society views disability as the medical model of disability. When Forrest receives leg braces for his extremely crooked spine, it is then depicted that he is ‘below normal’. Forrests new braces make him walk different which caused people in the neighborhood to stare and make stereotypical comments. Although Forrest only carries an IQ of 75, Mrs. Gump never fails to supports him throughout his life.
Mrs. Gump advocates for Forrest’s schooling because she believes he deserves the finest education. When speaking to the school’s principal, it instantly becomes clear that the education system follows the ableism perspective. The public school principal discriminates Forrest solely on his intellectual ability. The principle shows Mrs. Gump a visual representation of the idea of normalcy as a method of admitting students.
The minimum IQ score to attend the public school is an 80, which Forrest just falls short of. The principle then suggests that Forrest attend a special school where he would be “just fine”. Mrs. Gump makes sure Forrest gets the same opportunities as everyone else and refuses to put him in a special school that restrains him from that. The only way Forrest had a chance to be admitted into the school was if Mrs. Gump had sex with the principle, and so she did. The principle shows how discriminating society is to people who don’t qualify as ‘normal’. Forrest also experiences discrimination when he rides the school bus for the first time.
The kids looked at Forrest as being different because of the physical braces he was wearing. Most of the kids didn’t allow Forrest to sit next to them regardless of if there was room. The kids made hateful facial gestures and covered the empty seats with their backpacks or bodies.
Eventually a sweet girl named Jenny offers Forrest a seat next to her. As she introduces herself to Forrest, she questions his braces and says, ” are you stupid or something”. Its presented in these scenes that often times people who are classified as “different” are treated in such inhumane ways.As the film progresses, society begins to view Forrest Gump through the social model of disability. Forrest becomes conflicted when three school bullies begin to chase and taught him for his disability. In this scene we watch Forrest’s leg braces break away in effort to out run the bullies. His new ability to run like the wind blew empowered him to escape the teasing bullies.
This was the first scene that send the message that one can conquer the barrier that comes with having a disability if you put enough energy into it.