I try not to repeat topics on this blog but sometimes I feel we need a refresher course. Today is one such time.
It happened again. It’s been a few weeks, but I kind of had to let it simmer before writing about it. Otherwise I might have exploded.
Our local news station does a segment called Person of the Week. It may be similar to one in your city or town, where the local media honors a person who gives back to others in a big way. It may be the lady who started a halfway house for addicts. It might be the guy who rescues kittens and puppies slated for euthanasia in shelters, and sees they get adopted. It might be the coach or teacher who’s been at X school for like, 20 years and influenced hundreds of students in a positive way. You know these people and the world is better because of them.
Our Person of the Week that week was a baseball coach. Great. He’s been coaching for awhile and from what I saw is darn good at it. Wonderful. He’s also described as especially compassionate. And as the newscaster expressed that, a brief shot of a player with Down Syndrome was shown.
Tweet! Flag on the play! I know, football, not baseball, but I hate sports so whatever.
I love that this coach is compassionate toward students with disabilities. I love that a student with Down Syndrome was featured in the newscast. But the way it was presented, purposely or not, I continually find exploitive in the media.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen it happen either. May is prom season, and so a lot of girls get “prom-posals” (I feel those are ridiculous but that’s neither here nor there). May is also the season that some girls invite guys with disabilities to the prom–or guys invite girls. And because one half of that couple has a disability, the event gets written up in the paper. It’s like they’re saying, “Gasp! A disabled person is doing something normal! Someone actually had the guts and compassion to include them! Extra, extra, read all about it!”
Not to be crass here, but…gag me with a shovel.
I’m sorry. I know it’s probably a huge deal to families, friends, teachers, and whoever when a student with a disability gets invited to prom. I know being written up is an honor. I know it makes everybody feel warm and fuzzy inside, and I hope everyone has a great time at those proms. But please, please, for the love of all that is holy, stop writing people with disabilities up in the newspaper for doing what the majority of the population does every day of our lives.
I’ve said this to a lot of people, including those closest to me. Some, especially those closest to me, think I’m being mean and unfair, so I shut up. But this is a blog. Outside of my alias you don’t know me (except if you email me directly, in which case you know my real first name). So I feel safe here telling the truth which is, the people who exploit PWDs, through feel-good stories or otherwise, are the ones being mean.
Think about it, folks. I mean really, think. If you’ve got a kid or teenager at home, how would you feel if the local news crew surrounded your kid’s coach and snapped his or her picture and said, “You’re so compassionate for letting Tommy play after he lost a tooth”? If they said something like, “Despite being of mixed race/having a freckle on her nose/being the only Muslim in school, Serena was given a prom-posal?”
You would be absolutely SHRIEKING. You. Would. Sue. You would probably want to find the reporter responsible and shove the microphone up their butt.
So why–why oh, why–do we continually do the same thing to people with disabilities? I’m not talking about newsworthy stuff, like if a person with Down Syndrome competed in the Winter Olympic games and won gold, or if a person with cerebral palsy raised $10,000 for charity with her own tutoring business. I’m talking about using another person because you want to feel good. I’m talking about sending a message that says, “You are so far from normal, there is so little hope for you, that anything you do ‘like us’ is this amazing thing. You can have your 15 minutes of fame, but only the way we want you to have it.” It sends the overall message that at the end of the day, temporarily able-bodied people are better than PWDs. After all, they make the rules. They decide what’s newsworthy. They decide what PWDs can and can’t do.
I’m tired of letting them decide. I say it’s time for us to decide. And the first thing we need to decide is how we treat persons with disabilities. Do we continue the exploitation? Or do we give them authentic, meaningful praise in the privacy of our own circles, give them real inclusion opportunities, and make everybody feel good?
A PWD who lives a life of their choosing, who isn’t necessarily newsworthy all the time but has friends and family and a life he or she enjoys? That might be worth a report. But to all these other feel-good stories? I say, please get out of my newspaper.