The following New York Times article gives many common-sense ideas about interacting with people who have disabilities. In reading it, I realized that very little is new. It just reminds us of the value of treating EVERYONE with dignity and respect.
Okay, I’ll admit it – on some level I wanted to look like
Barbie. Even though I intellectually knew that she wasn’t real and didn’t resemble
any person I knew, that skinny piece of painted plastic still had the power to
make me feel woefully inferior, if I let it. There was something about her
silent perfection that could not help but scream “pretty,” “hip” and “athletic”
to me, especially when she was dressed up to go hiking or rollerblading with
the ever-hunky Ken.
Of course, most children go through something like this as
we are growing up. And because I did not develop MS until well into adulthood, I
at least did not have the additional burden of incorporating a cane, a walker
or a wheelchair into my developing self-image. That would only have made things
more difficult and infinitely more confusing.
And it’s not just Barbie. Traditionally, images have abounded on television and in books and movies about “desirable” people, who almost never include people with disabilities (unless we are shown as unrealistically cheery and inspirational or as sinister and even evil, driven mad by our disabilities).
But it’s refreshing to see that things are slowly but
steadily changing. There are more television shows, movies and even commercials
that feature people with disabilities as just regular people – because that’s
all we really are.
And it was good to read that later in 2019, Mattel is going
to introduce new Barbie dolls that will look a lot more like real people. As
shown in the above photo and accompanying CNN article, the dolls will be varied
in their bodies, hair, skin and clothes, just like we all are. And significantly,
one of the dolls is a wheelchair user and another one has a removable prosthetic
So while the new Barbie is not going to feed the world, stop global warming or eliminate all discrimination, she can at least provide a little reassurance to children with disabilities who want to feel a little more connected to a very confusing world.
UPDATE: I’m now in
my 60’s and have had multiple sclerosis for about three decades. I haven’t played with dolls for a long time,
and I think I’m pretty much over “Barbie Envy.”
But when I feel particularly frustrated with my limping and tripping, it gives me some measure of comfort to see more and more people like me represented on television, in movies and elsewhere in the public domain. It reminds me that “real” people are not (usually) made of plastic!
In 2010, Craig Fugate wrote about Benilda Caixeta, “who was paralyzed from her shoulders down. [S]he was one of many residents of New Orleans, Louisiana, still trying to evacuate when Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005. But despite her repeated calls to the local transportation system that served people with disabilities, as well as to 911, help never arrived. She was found dead in her apartment several days later, floating next to her wheelchair.”
Mr. Fugate had both humanitarian and professional reasons to mourn Ms. Caixeta. At the time he wrote this CNN opinion piece, he was the director of FEMA.
He also wrote, “Monday marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As we celebrate this historic law, which delivered civil rights to millions of Americans, we must also acknowledge how far we still have to go to live up to the law’s promise — especially when it comes to planning for disasters and protecting the vulnerable such as Benilda Caixeta.”
Among other things, Mr. Fugate mentioned that for both the Katrina and Hugo hurricanes, “many children and adults with disabilities were turned away from shelters. Blind and deaf residents did not have access to critical information about where to go or how to get assistance. Services that are required under ADA and other disability rights laws were not provided. And many disabled evacuees developed serious – but preventable – health conditions.”
Seven years later, we are celebrating the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and are watching Houston as it seems to slowly sink under the fury of Hurricane Harvey. We have also seen some inspirational scenes of “ordinary people” steering their canoes towards people in stress (some of whom were wheelchair users) and rescuing them.
But there was also an unbelievable news item yesterday about 18 stranded nursing home residents, sitting waist-deep in flood water. The owner’s son-in-law finally tweeted out a photo showing how alarming the situation had become, and everyone was saved. (It’s refreshing, for once, to see a positive tweet with a positive outcome!).
So we have made progress, but we still have a long way to go.
This morning, it looks like every national news channel is politely screaming at Texas residents to get out of the way of Hurricane Harvey. Reluctant reporters are trying to stay neutral as they ask some people why they are determined to defy the evacuation orders and “ride it out.” The answers are predictable: “I want to protect my family – animals – farm…”
I’m not about to judge the wisdom of these people and their decisions. But this situation does make me think about how I and other people with disabilities would fare if we had to suddenly evacuate because of a disaster (natural or man-made).
Fortunately, there is a considerable amount of information about this on the http://www.ada.gov website. I have attached two links that discuss the necessity of advanced planning — both on the part of cities and of those who might be the most vulnerable in an emergency.