In the same week we celebrated the 20th year anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act I learned that writer and cartoonist John Callahan passed away. He was a cartoonist who said what other wouldn’t about the experience of disability. His cartoons were hysterically funny. His book “Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot,” was both a caption to a drawing that everyone who uses a wheelchair has seen, and a collection of daring explorations of myths and stereotypes. Callahan probably had as much to do with the empowerment of people with disabilities with his universally funny work as the ADA itself.
Permission to laugh at a disability also invited curiosity about the perspective of a man who used a wheelchair. I had been in a wheelchair for more than a decade when people started sending me Callahan cartoons they had seen and clipped for me. I met John Callahan more than a decade ago on my own book tour out in Portland Oregon where he lived. He was so friendly, with a darkly sick mind I could certainly relate to. He was a quadriplegic while I was a paraplegic. On some level when our eyes met we would always ask each other: “How are you doing with all this?”
Callahan was the first to admit that having a spinal cord injury was probably the least of his problems. He struggled with addiction and depression for years and his death is, no-doubt linked in some ways with those lifelong struggles. His contributions to the language of how people with disabilities think of themselves are timeless and priceless. As good as I may think my own sense of humor is about my disability, John Callahan gave me permission to laugh at my own life. I’ll miss him. Thanks John Callahan.