Yesterday, on March 14th, the world was saddened to hear about the loss of Stephen Hawking, one of the most revolutionary scientists to have ever lived. The British physicist was 76-years-old when he passed away at his home in Cambridge, and news of his passing quickly prompted an outpouring of tributes and condolences across the web.
Everybody from NASA to Neil deGrasse Tyson shared their thoughts about the late scientist - but not all of them got a good reception.
Gal Gadot, in particular, received a fair amount of backlash for her post, even though, on the surface, her words seemed to be nothing but thoughtful and well-meaning.
In the tweet, the Wonder Woman actress mentions Hawking's "physical constraints" - a reference, of course, to the motor neurone disease he was diagnosed with at the age of 22. Unfortunately, many people didn't take too kindly to the way it was worded and believed it was discriminatory to people with disabilities.
"I think you’re fantastic Gal but this tweet is very ableist," commented Adam B. Zimmerman. "His physical constraints didn’t stop him from changing the world. People with disabilities don’t wish for death to be free of their challenges. We wish to be valued for what we CAN do, not pitied for we can’t."
Others told the Twitter user he was overreacting with his response, but Zimmerman, who is blind, argued that Gadot's words were offensive to anyone and everyone who isn't able-bodied.
"One would never say someone is freed by death from being a certain race, or gender or religion so why is it acceptable to imply death frees someone who achieved greatness while happening to have a disability?" he said. "That sentiment affects me personally, it affects all people with disabilities because it impacts how we are perceived. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 70-80% and the idea that disabilities are scary things to be “freed” from is a big reason why."
Of course, it's highly unlikely that Gadot realized she would cause any offense by making the statement - and nobody is saying she did it intentionally - but it was suggested by many that she could have put a little more thought into what she said.
Those who had paid attention to Hawking's work and statements in the past were aware that, far from feeling constrained by his disability, the scientist believed that the only thing that could ever hold him back would be death.
"I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first," he said in 2011. "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."
The point is that Hawking shouldn't be singled out for having used a wheelchair or speaking with the aid of technology. He shouldn't be pitied for all the things he couldn't do, but celebrated for the things he could. In light of this, any mention of him being "freed" from his disability is simply disrespectful.