Christopher Reeve broke his neck three months after I became
tetraplegic. He was important to my life for a very personal
reason: he gave me a point of reference, not only as to how I dealt
with the physical, emotional and practical changes to my life, but
also as a way of thinking about my future.
We differed in many ways: he was famous, and rich enough to be able
to afford anything he wanted. I wasn’t; I had to rely on the social
care system for care, housing, and aids. Fundamentally, Christopher
Reeve was ambitious about becoming able-bodied again, whereas I was
ambitious to make the most of my life as someone with a disability.
I thought that his declaration that he would walk again came from
his refusal to accept his disability, which would prevent him from
becoming active in different ways, and give disabled people false
Over the years, I was proved very wrong. Not only did he use his
body as a test-bed for innovations and new techniques, but he was
willing to use his energy and fame to promote the idea that one
should never stop striving, whatever your goal. I doubt whether he
felt himself to be heroic, or even particularly special as a
disabled person. Like many disabled people, he managed to be able
to talk about his body and its (dys)functions without
embarrassment, knowing that it was important to further
understanding of disability. Eventually, I think we shared the same
attitude: rather than think about impairment, start with what you
have got, then work out how to achieve your goals.
Something we also shared was a growing awareness that health and
disability are hugely political issues. Research into treatments
(not necessarily “cures”) affordable equipment (one of his
charities funds equipment for other disabled Americans) and
disabled access to society still need to be fought for, even in the
richest countries in the world. Christopher Reeve, even close to
death, used his position to take a political stance on these issues
in the US presidential election.