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Obfuscating Disability

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"‘Ware the man who fakes a limp."
The Gunslinger, The Gunslinger
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Sometimes a person with an apparent disability will be more than they seem. Sometimes they will turn out not to be disabled at all. The reasons for faking a disability vary, but it is usually to cause others to underestimate them.

A particular form occurs in Crime and Punishment Series where one suspect will be obviously be ruled out because they are in a wheelchair and physically incapable of committing the crime. However, at The Summation, the detective announces that the criminal is in fact the paraplegic. This is then followed by the supposed paraplegic getting up and attempting to run. Another variant, commonly used in Courtroom Episodes, involves an Ambulance Chaser lawyer persuading his client to feign injury such as whiplash in order to win a Frivolous Lawsuit settlement. Or the Staged Pedestrian Accident, where the "victim" allows himself to get hit by a car, and does a gruesome-looking but harmless tumble.

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It is worth noting that a lot of disabled people may occasionally give the appearance of this trope, when it is anything but. Some conditions might require the use of a wheelchair to avoid exhaustion or discomfort, even though the person is technically capable of standing up and walking for a short while. Other disabilities can be a milder form of a more well-known condition, but make no mistake: the person in question is still disabled, and they're emphatically not faking it.

See also Faking Amnesia, Obfuscating Stupidity, Obfuscating Insanity, Pillow Pregnancy, Playing Sick, and Disability as an Excuse for Jerkassery. Contrast Throwing Off the Disability, when a genuinely disabled person makes a miraculous recovery, and Hiding the Handicap, where a person conceals his disability. A villainous character who actually is disabled is an Evil Cripple.

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Examples:

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    Audio Plays 

    Film — Animated 
  • In Balto III: Wings of Change, Boris falls for a female goose named Stella but he's afraid to fly. He lies to her and tells her he's too injured to fly.
  • Nigel, the Card-Carrying Villain cockatoo of Rio takes advantage of this: at first he looks just as an old and sick bird being treated at a birds rehabilitation and research centre in Rio de Janeiro. Later, after taking active part in Blue and Jewel kidnapping, he shows himself as really is: a very dangerous sadistic janitor with cannibalistic tendencies.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • There have been a few angles over the years where a supposedly injured wrestler, standing nearby with crutches, will suddenly run into the ring and use the crutches to attack the person he's feuding with. Sometimes, it will be a wrestler returning from a lengthy absence due to an actual injury.
    • This was done in an utterly tasteless manner by WCW when Buff Bagwell used a wheelchair after a major spinal injury. Bagwell called the man who injured him, Rick Steiner, to the ring and forgave him...only to rise from the wheelchair and betray Steiner immediately afterward, turning this into yet another nWo angle.
    • ECW's "Sandman gets blinded" angle. The Sandman was apparently blinded in a match with Tommy Dreamer, and to help sell the angle, stayed at home for a month, never having contact with another human being apart from his wife - his commitment to the angle was phenomenal. Then, he came to the arena to announce his retirement, and when he got to the ring, ripped the bandages off and beat the living crap out of Tommy Dreamer.
  • Doink the Clown earned his first major feud when he faked an arm injury to gain sympathy from Crush, who had been speaking out about the clown's recent string of practical jokes and that they might hurt someone if he isn't careful. Crush agreed to let Doink alone ... until he realized (after waking up at the hospital) that he was suckered into a severe beating with a fake prosthetic arm, leading Crush to vow bloody revenge.
  • An infamous Brother Love show saw him play the part of a charlatan, hiring an actor to pretend he was blind and lame, before ordering him to see and walk on command.
  • At the climax of the AEW championship match at AEW Revolution between Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley, Jericho (who'd stabbed Moxley in the right eye with a spike several weeks earlier) blinded Moxley in his left eye as well, leaving Moxley unable to see Jericho to pin him, only for Moxley to pull the eyepatch off his right eye and reveal that it had healed by now. He promptly beat Jericho to become champion.

    Music 
  • The traditional folk song "The Beggar", as recorded by Steeleye Span:
    Sometimes we call at a rich man's hall,
    To beg for bread and beer.
    Sometimes we're lame, sometimes we're blind,
    Sometimes too deaf to hear.

    Podcasts 

    Radio 
  • The Lone Ranger: When posing as an elderly Prospector, the Ranger would place a stone in his shoe to force himself to walk with a limp.
  • The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: In "The Case of the Baconian Cipher", Holmes realises the man pretending to be his wheelchair-bound uncle is a fake when he notices fresh dirt on the soles of his shoes.
  • Troll Cops: The Nefarious and Notorious Mr. Pupa uses his wheelchair to lull his foes into a false sense of security, before escaping on his fully functional robotic legs.

    Theatre 
  • In Accidental Death of an Anarchist, The Maniac wears an eyepatch despite having two functioning eyes. He pretends to lose a Glass Eye as a distraction several times.
  • Some stage versions of And Then There Were None place Judge Lawrence Wargrave in a wheelchair, leading to a dramatic reveal of the murderer.
  • Used as early as Henry VI part two, when Gloucester proves that a man who claims to have been divinely cured of blindness is a charlatan.
  • In The Man Who Came to Dinner, Whiteside's doctor pronounces his injuries fully healed by the end of the first act, but he insists on keeping his recovery a secret so he won't have to leave town. So he stays in his wheelchair for a while longer.
  • Used in We Must Kill Toni by a character in a wheelchair. Although he is injured, he exaggerated his injuries and can walk a few steps.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Ace Attorney Investigations's Quercus Alba. Ironically, faking his need to walk with a cane has given him an actual bad back. (You try walking stooped over for that long!)
    • In Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, Machi Tobaye is not actually blind, but Lamiroir, who is thought to be sighted, is.
    • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, Armie Buff actually was disabled for a time following a fire that claimed her mother's life and left her crippled, but she regained the use of her legs a few months prior to the events of the game. She stayed in her wheelchair because she was too scared to go outside, having developed an overwhelming fear of fire. Thanks to Apollo and Athena, she gains the courage to stand on her own two feet again.
  • Inverted in Emi's route of Katawa Shoujo. She absolutely refuses to be seen in a wheelchair despite her disability, and will painstakingly wear her prosthetic legs if she has to step outside.

    Web Animation 
  • In BIONICLE (2015)'s online animations, the Protector of Fire appears as a hunched, robe-wearing elder walking with a stick. When he decides it's time to start Tahu's training, he throws off his robe, straightens up, and reveals that his "hump" was in reality a shoulder-mounted gatling gun tucked under the robe.

    Webcomics 
  • Erma: The Tengu Monster Lord Osamu looks like a heavily stooped old man who walks with a cane. In his first appearance, however, he effortlessly massacres a group of youkai, then settles back into his hunched posture and shuffles on. Judging by the terror he inspires in his subjects, they're aware of the ruse.
  • Rachel from Tower of God was supposedly paraplegic after Hoh stabbed her in the back and Yu Hansung prevented any treatment to stop Bam from climbing the tower. Then she stands up and pushes Bam down the "The Wineglass", the lake their test takes place in. This is only the beginning of the Wham Episode.
  • Unsounded: When Sette talks about teaching fellow young thief Lucky Puppy how to be a better beggar so he could make jukrum it depicts her showing him to act like he needs a crutch.
  • The Wolf at Weston Court gives us Remus, the supposedly deaf and mute assistant to the local printer (who also makes a brief cameo appearance in the prequel comic, The Ten Tailors Of Weston Court). We eventually learn he's actually neither, moments before he murders Neville to get him out of the way.

    Web Original 
  • Can You Spare a Quarter?: Graham's lawyer pretends that Jamie is blind in order to allow him to bring the dog Cindy into the meeting with the Department of Child Welfare.
  • In the SuperMarioLogan episode, "Bowser Junior's Broken Leg", Bowser Junior breaks his leg and spends three weeks in bed waiting for it to heal, with Chef Pee Pee bringing him whatever he wants. After it heals, he pretends his leg is still broken to continue to get free stuff from Chef Pee Pee, despite a warning not to from the Brooklyn Guy. This comes back to bite him two weeks later, when Doofy the Dragon hosts a meet and greet at the mall, which Junior wants to go to. After Junior admits to Chef Pee Pee that he's been lying about his leg for the last two weeks, Chef Pee Pee beats him up, breaking his other leg.

    Western Animation 
  • Total Drama All-Stars: After being released from the robot suit he was sealed into after the events of World Tour, Alejandro's legs are numb and useless. It only takes one night in the spa to get them back into working order, but Alejandro proceeds to act like he's still unable to walk around the other contestants to get them to lower their guard. He only reveals the truth once his plan to eliminate Heather has a guaranteed success.

    Real Life 
  • Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts, was completely deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other. She would play it up to get what she wanted by forcing people to repeat themselves until they said what she wanted to hear. Considering the barriers women had to face in 1912, this was probably a huge asset in the early days of the organization.
  • Likewise Princess Alice of Battenberg, late mother-in-law to HM The Queen. She really was deaf, but could read lips (and understood multiple languages). During World War II, she lived in Greece, hiding a Jewish family from the Nazis...despite her house being literally yards away from Gestapo headquarters. She was brought in for questioning several times, but pretended that she couldn't understand anything they asked her. It also helped that she had been diagnosed with mental illness in the early '30s. She played up being a dotty old lady to the Nazis while efficiently organizing nursing circuits and soup kitchens in Athens. It worked.
  • Similarly, Winston Churchill would obfuscate deafness to irritate or bring off fellow politicians and aides with whom he did not agree.
  • Not Always Right:
    • This woman on Not Always Right, preferring to order an usher to remove a cinema seat (something they point out they cannot do as they are bolted to the floor) rather than get out of her chair or use one of the designated handicapped seats in the theater, even though she shows herself soon after to be entirely capable of that level of movement despite her earlier claims.
      Me: I thought you couldn’t get out of your chair?
      Customer: I can, but I don’t want to!
    • Subverted here: the customer decided the barista (who usually wears contacts but was wearing glasses that day) was wearing fake glasses to be "cool" or something.
    • Also subverted here when a customer assumes an employee is wearing an eye patch as a fashion statement and finds out the hard way that it isn't when she forcefully removes it.
    • This customer, who, when she doesn't get her way after throwing a (rather racist) tantrum, throws down her crutches and stomps out the front door.
  • At the 2000 Paralympic Games, the Spanish team got dragged into a scandal for allegedly winning 5 gold medals with non-disabled athletes, primarily to get bigger sponsorship deals. Of most prominent note was the Spanish intellectually disabled basketball team, who was caught Obfuscating Stupidity and got stripped of their gold medals. Only two of their twelve members ended up being eligible, intellectually disabled athletes.
  • Zip the Pinhead, who was an early 20th century sideshow performer known for his oddly shaped head and supposed mental disability, has also become suspect of "faking his handicap". According to an interview with his sister, Zip's last words to her were: "Well, we fooled 'em for a long time, didn't we?"
  • American comedian Harpo Marx of the Marx Brothers fame played a mute character on stage, in his films and kept this image alive during public appearances. Though the general public never knew it and to this day you'll find a lot of people unsure about it, Harpo could in fact speak. Still, so far there's only one audio recording of his voice available.
  • Twitch gamer Angel Hamilton (better known as ZilianOP) notoriously stood up from his wheelchair during a Diablo III webcast. He was swiftly banned from Twitch, and the website offered refunds to people who were fooled into donating to him.
  • An obscure inter-war American blues singer called Ben Covington had his nickname changed from Blind Ben Covington to Bogus Ben Covington after it was discovered that he was faking the blindness.
  • Israeli musician Haim "Zino" Zinovich was a fusion rock musician who spent much of the '90s making music without much recognition in his country, and he disappeared without a trace at decade's end. In 2000, however, a new singer named "Hasaruf", the Burned Man, surfaced on the nation's music scene. He was a former Israeli soldier who suffered third degree burns across his entire body and was put into a wheelchair. He got prime-time news coverage all across the national media, and revealed himself to be Zinovich. The Israeli audience that was once indifferent to him were left in awe at his brilliant marketing gimmick, and ran out to buy his CD, which became one of the best selling in the nation's history. Afterwards, Zino and his friend Tomer "Tommy" Bilan started to get Hollywood deals, getting their music in media like The Sopranos.
  • According to legend (but not historical accuracy), Sixtus V entered the Vatican's electoral chamber on crutches, feigning infirmity so he'd be elected as an interim, short-term Pope.
  • Some people fake having ADHD to get access to the stimulants used to treat it; unfortunately, this negatively affects those who actually have it, as some who don't believe in the disorder now assume that everyone who takes the medication is just lazy and addicted to it.
  • Japanese composer Mamoru Samuragochi infamously pretended to be completely deaf.
  • In late medieval France, a certain slum district of Paris was known as the "Court of Miracles" because of this trope. Residents would fake terrible injuries or diseases when out begging in more affluent areas of the city, then drop the act once they returned, leading people to joke that it was a place where the lame could walk and the blind could see.
  • Many businesses have a "no pets allowed except for service animals" rule. Some folks will lie that their dog is a service dog that they need for a made-up disability in order to slip their non-service dog into the establishment. In some countries, confirming whether a dog really is a service animal can be difficult for employees due to disability laws that skew heavily in favor of the customer; it's not unheard of for a business to get sued because they so much as asked to see a certificate or other evidence. In the US, "service animals" are not legally required to have any documentation, identification, or even professional training, making it easy to fake.


 
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Video Example(s):

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Nigel Pretends To Be Injured

Nigel, the main antagonist of the movie Rio takes advantage of this: at first he looks just as an old and sick bird being treated at a birds rehabilitation and research center in Rio de Janeiro. He later on tricks Sylvio the man in charge of guarding Blu and Jewel while Linda and Tulio are out eating at a restaurant and is according to Tulio the best guard in the business by pretending to be injured and once Sylvio was close enough Nigel used a chloroform soaked rag to knock him out allowing Fernando a boy who works part time for the smugglers to steal Blu and Jewel for them.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

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Main / ObfuscatingDisability

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