Employers routinely turn down disabled job seekers. What prevents them from doing their job is the stereotype, not the disability

I liked very much the film Words on Bathroom Walls. It is about something that is taboo to speak about, especially in Bulgaria: can a person with bipolar disorder, with schizophrenia, etc., live a normal life, love and be loved…

To be honest, prejudice rather than the illness itself stands in the way of normal living for people with various diseases. Employers routinely turn down disabled job seekers. What prevents them from doing their job is the “ABnormal-won’t-cope” stereotype and not the disability. We are well aware that even companies with a set quota for people with disabilities deny them a chance and simply hire employees with fake disability certification, and so the target is met…

Absurd as it may seem, the “abnormal” qualification bars a blind or deaf person or an amputee from what we all call ‘normal life’. It’s ironic, but true.

In the Words on Bathroom Walls movie, I was delighted to see that the love between girl and boy is denied by the boy’s suffering from a disease, which is a reason beyond his control, and not by the girl’s parents’ reluctance or the boy’s parents’ resistance, or incompatible worldviews. It takes guts to give such a twist to the script because it is bound to elicit an immediate reaction from somebody (quite a few, actually): “Why on earth should this beautiful girl ruin her life because of his illness?” Yes, this is the first thing that comes to mind. It seems to push into the background the most important thing: why isn’t anybody asking that beautiful girl what she wants for herself? Maybe she’s willing to take chances, to put feelings before reckonings of finding another Romeo without a challenging diagnosis.

Even the protagonist boy doesn’t ask her that question. He tries to chase her away, to put her off, to repulse her. It makes perfect sense: he loves her, therefore, he doesn’t want her to suffer, and he is programmed to assume that he makes everybody around suffer.

Now here’s the key: people tend to blame themselves. Their mother cries because there’s no cure, and they immediately decide that they are to blame. You know, it’s the same thing with the children of divorced parents. They see themselves as the reason for the separation.

I’ll spare you a spoiler, but the film ends happily. In the sense that the two characters are reunited, i.e. they successfully wrestle with his demons of self-hatred, but above all because the boy comes to accept his step-father as a real father figure who is there for him, once his real father has been scared away by his unbearable diagnosis.

The conclusion is self-evident: anybody can find a community that will accept them. You can’t be liked by everybody, you can’t be accepted by everybody, but for all that you must keep looking for your group without giving up and losing hope.

I’m glad that this film is there. It has two messages, telling handicapped and sick people that self-flagellation is counterproductive and demonstrating to all the rest that accepting the other starts by not factoring out their diagnosis.

I remember Xavier Dolan as Michael in Elephant Song telling Bruce Greenwood as Dr Greene that he does not want him to read his files but to accept him instead on the basis of their interview. Michael was sick and tired of being introduced to the rest by his illness and not by his personality.