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Stephen Hawking - the world's most famous disabled cosmologist passes away

This week, Professor Stephen Hawking passed away at the age of 76 in the UK. If anything, he was the world's most famous disabled cosmologist.

There are many other disabled cosmologists - literally speaking - out there. I would count myself (as an amateur astronomer) to be one of them. I'm not an academic cosmologist (as Hawking was) but an amateur one nonetheless.

Also, Hawking showed that living with disability is not a death sentence, is not something to be feared but rather something to be celebrated. I say this because some social and mainstream media commentary this week have focused on the rather ableist notion that 'he had to overcome his disability' or 'had overcome his disability.' This has been graphically illustrated, for example, by some artists drawing him standing looking out into space and not sitting in his wheelchair (with its famous voice box). To my mind (and those of other disabled people I know) this doesn't represent what his reality actually was - that he was a wheelchair user - and so why shouldn't he be remembered as such - and, more specifically, as a wheelchair using, disabled genius?

Besides, these types of visual and word images seek to convey a fear on the part of non-disabled people about disability and what it represents - which is divorced from the reality that disabled people live as varied lives as anyone else yet face additional barriers which are erected by the societies we live in. Actually, it is these barriers that prevent disabled people like me - and even the most famous disabled people like Stephen Hawking - from still being fully included in our world.

Clearly, Hawking had to overcome the sometimes disablist views of his academic colleagues rather than his impairment to succeed in his chosen field - cosmology. I'm glad he did and that he went onto win the respect of not only his peers at Cambridge University but of those around the world and that includes, perhaps, every professional and amateur astronomer on the planet.

For his contributions to astronomical theory, Hawking will be deeply missed. We may not see another genius like him in my lifetime or, indeed, for several lifetimes.  Literally, that is why a huge black hole has now opened up again with his passing which may not be filled until another Hawking comes along - and like the original, he might be a disabled person too!