Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Perhaps one stakeholder was missed

I run around in business circles where words like "stakeholders" are bandied about. While the terminology can be all-too-trendy at times, it does illustrate a valid point. A project, an action, or a decision has a profound effect on many different people, and it's wise to recognize who those people are and how they are affected.

As an example, take this video.

The video, called "The Power of Words," was created by a UK agency called Purplefeather, who believed that an inspiring story would illustrate to potential clients just how positive words could make a powerful impact on customers.

But how did the blind feel about it?

William Peace is not blind, but he is, in his words, a bad cripple. And he was offended by the paternalism.

Portraying people with a disability in a negative way is something i have railed against in the past. It is nothing new. This video however sets an all time new low. While I rail against ads that portray people who use a wheelchair as dependent, this video takes it even further. No pretense is made about the fact a blind man is begging. Ho hum, an every day event I suppose....

This man is dehumanized in the extreme. The poor bastard cannot not even write a sign worthy of a beggar. This is left to an able bodied woman. You know those all powerful people that can walk, hear, and see.

The power of images, perhaps.

There is a core of disabled activists who value independence over dependence, who (in the United States) fight for the rights guaranteed to them under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and who strongly object to those people who portray the disabled as incomplete humans who need our help.

People such as Jerry Lewis. This is what he said in a September 1990 article in Parade Magazine:

I know the courage it takes to get on the court with other cripples and play wheelchair basketball, but I'm not as fortunate as they are, and I bet I'm in the majority. I'd like to play basketball like normal, healthy, vital, and energetic people. I really don't want the substitute. I just can't half-do anything -- either it's all the way, or forget it. That's a rough way to think in my position. When I sit back and think a little more rationally, I realize my life is half, so I must learn to do things halfway. I just have to learn to try to be good at being a half a person ... and get on with my life.

That single paragraph in Parade, which was printed right around Labor Day, got the attention of a number of so-called "half" people, "cripples," who shared their views with "normal" people.

In Chicago, Cris Matthews and Mike Ervin, a brother and sister who both had forms of Muscular Dystrophy and had been MDA poster children in 1961 and who had been active in ADAPT actions and had started a group called AccessAbility Associates, decided to do something about it.

Two months before the 1991 Telethon, Matthews wrote to Robert Ross, Executive Director of the Association, a deceptively simple letter. "The wheels are in motion to begin the campaign to remove Jerry Lewis from your Telethon," she told him, by way of introduction. "We intend to keep at it until he is no longer associated with MDA, and the negative, degrading nature of the Telethon is changed to reflect the truth about life with muscular dystrophy and disability in general."

The Association, she charged, was "expert in exploiting the worst side of disability and, with the eager assistance of Lewis, has made us out to be nothing more than pathetic burdens to society, whose only desire is to walk. Much attention is given to the kids who may not live to adulthood, but for those of us who do live on, not one word or one dime is devoted to the concept of independence." Lewis's Parade article, "full of the condescending paternalism the Association foists on the viewing public, is an outrage and an insult," she told Ross.

"No one is negating research or the individual's desire to be cured," she wrote. What they objected to was the paternalism, "the attitude that stresses that, no matter what one does, life is meaningless in a wheelchair."
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