|img from Wikipedia|
A friend who knows I have written about Jerry Lewis, the MDA Telethon, and their influence on disability rights asked me that question when the news spread earlier this week about 2011 being Lewis' last year with the telethon.
Actually, I never felt the great animosity that many who had been through the MDA "machine" have displayed in their protests. Some are bitter at the way they were treated personally. Some felt no good could come of parading a child with a disability before a national television audience and essentially saying the child would die unless the audience forked over more money than in years past. Emotional blackmail, that is, and of the basest sort.
I was always uncomfortable watching the telethon, feeling empathetic embarrassment as the people with MD were rolled out and offered up as examples of misfortune.
And I always felt Lewis's central fault was his arrogance, his inability to listen, learn, and grow as society changed. No one can blame a person born almost ninety years ago for growing up with an antiquated idea about disability, but we can blame that person for not growing, learning, and understanding that the best thing for people with disabilities is not charity, not care-taking, not patronization but rather access and accommodation and full integration into society.
How else to characterize a man who even now says, "I will never desert MDA and my kids."
The world is a better place when people with disabilities are treated like adults, given the respect due adults, and have access to society's benefits like adults.