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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lewis and Ignorant Parents Deserve Criticism, Not Praise and Support

It’s rare that a news story involving people with disabilities reaches the mainstream media, let alone two of them in the same week. But that’s just what happened this week.

Unfortunately, both stories were merely reminders that even in our politically correct world, insulting the disability community is ok.

It seems the BBC had the nerve to hire a woman that was born with only half of one of her arms to co-host a children’s show. This has outraged many parents, who are apparently horrified that their television is failing at it’s job as mind-numbing baby-sitter, and has presented the fact that there are actual differences among people to their children. Here’s a sampling of reaction from parents according to a story on the website of the NY Times:

A father going by the name of brightroddydoddy wrote: I question the logic of hiring a girl with part of her arm missing (and so obviously placed on display for kids to see it) to present cbeebies. My child was immediately freaked out and didn’t want to watch. There’s a time and place for showing kids all the “differences” that people can have, but nine in the morning in front of 2 year olds is NOT the place! . . . Little overboard on the need for political correctness, perhaps?

A mom, KellieLucas, agreed: I understand that in todays society we have to be politically correct. But how do you explain to a 3-year-old child why the one of the presenters has half an arm. She was extremely upset and confused by this and continues to ask questions. . . . I am not questioning the ability of the lady who seems very good, but I don’t feel that a channel which targets toddlers and young children is the right place.

The story, by the way, had the headline: “Is a Disabled TV Character Too Much for Toddlers?” And the story suggested parents were merely “expressing their discomfort . . .”

I’m not sure which is worse, the Times suggesting there’s an actual debate on the subject, or the moronic parents who think it’s ok to express open prejudice toward people with disabilities. I fear quoting these two, especially the father, empowers like-minded dopes, but hope it serves to expose the level of stupidity still faced by the disability community.

Words can barely express the level of outrage that should be directed at these parents. They are no better than racists who openly express their ignorance as if it was handed down by God. Imagine these words being directed at any other minority group. At the very least the show would remove the messages, which were posted on their site, the story would be a lot more prevalent in the news, and many would rightly question whether or not these people should have social services intervene with their children due to their lack of parenting.

I’ve often been given the impression that European countries were much more socially advanced in regard to treating people with disabilities as equals. I believe we can put that myth to rest. These parents, if they even deserve that title, not only ignored an opportunity to have a worthwhile discussion with their children able to need to respect differences in others, they outright rejected the principle as ludicrous and taught their children to do the same.

Not to be outdone, though, the United States chose to put its ignorance toward people with disabilities on display when the Motion Picture Academy chose to honor Jerry Lewis with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Academy Awards last Sunday. They might have even gotten away with it had they only focused on Lewis’ work in film. Instead they made his work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association part of the video honoring Lewis.

This one just barely reached the media, but many people with MD protested the award due to Lewis’ tactics with the annual MDA Labor Day telethon of inviting pity for people with disabilities. In fact, audio exists of Lewis responding to the criticism by saying, “You don’t want to be pitied because you’re a cripple in a wheelchair? Stay in your house.” (Click here to go to a site with a link to the audio.)

Lewis refused to talk to the press and offered a very brief acceptance speech at the ceremony. It would be nice to think he realized how absurd it was that he was receiving any kind of award. The fact is that such a comment about any other group would have ended his career. Instead, he was just avoiding answering questions about the criticism.

And that is the real problem. He can avoid the issue because people with disabilities still don’t have a true voice in this country (or apparently any other). This man is perpetuating the very stereotypes that allow the world to marginalize and downright ignore people with disabilities, yet is celebrated as some sort of champion for us. He is part of the reason parents think it’s ok to teach their children to “freak out” at the sight of someone with a disability or to assume any modicum of success they achieve is based on political correctness. (Children simply do not react that way to a disability unless conditioned or prompted to do so by ignorant parents.)

Yet, he didn’t receive a single question about it. Instead, he was instead honored for it.

If there was any doubt as to the status of people with disabilities in society as second class citizens – if we rate that highly – I’d like to thank the Academy for putting it to rest.

Lewis comments long ago revealed him as a fraud, and if any group representing people with disabilities had any type of clout, there is absolutely no way he would have been honored. He certainly wouldn’t continue to host the MDA telethon.

I dare say the same about parents posting their ignorance for all to see. They might have the same feelings, just as racists certainly haven’t disappeared, but they might at least not be so brazen with their ignorance. At the very least, the might face a backlash for their idiotic stances. Instead, they’re said to be raising debate.

There is no debate. These types of comments from Lewis and the parents mentioned above should no longer be any more acceptable than other type of hate speech. We must find ways to put real financial pressure on groups like the MDA and Motion Picture Academy to stop tolerating such behavior.

How to make that a reality is something I surely have not discovered, but if nothing else I will continue to write about such issues hoping others do the same (as many do). We’ve all heard the cliché proclaiming the power of the pen; let’s hope there’s some truth to it.