Can’t spot the one with the disability? That’s the whole point!
It’s so great to see people with disabilities making their way into our most visible symbols of Americana. And Sydney Mesher is a great example. Obviously, she is not letting her disability keep her from living the life she wants.
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!
The baseball season is fast approaching, and that includes Little League. These are indelible symbols of our American values, but they still must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In 1992, Little League, Inc. adopted a policy saying that coaches in wheelchairs were not allowed on the baseball field, but had to coach from the dugout. After one tries to visualize how that could possibly work, the logical next question to ask is why. That’s the question that was asked by the players and the parents, but no clear answer was given.
A coach who was a wheelchair user sued Little League Baseball, Inc. and he won. The Arizona federal district court first held that Little League met the definition of a “public accommodation” (see the “public accommodation” page on this website.) The court also clarified that the ADA does not require any organization to put people in danger, but that danger must be real:
“In determining whether an individual, such as plaintiff, poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, a public accommodation must make an individualized assessment, based on reasonable judgment that relies on current medical knowledge or on the best available objective evidence, to ascertain: (1) the nature, duration, and severity of the risk; (2) the probability that the potential injury will actually occur; and (3) whether reasonable modifications of policies, practices, or procedures will mitigate the risk.”
In other words, the court said, Little League Baseball, Inc. had a legal obligation to assess the realistic danger posed by this particular individual in this situation. And in this case, the coach had been coaching from the field for three years without posing any kind of safety hazard and was very popular among parents and players. “Moreover,” the court said, “plaintiff’s significant contributions of time, energy, enthusiasm, and personal example benefit the numerous children who participate in Little League activities as well as the community at large. Plaintiff’s work with young people teaches them the importance of focusing on the strengths of others and helping them rise to overcome their personal challenges.”
Baseball was the first sport that accepted an African-American player on a major league team. Baseball also has players from a wide variety of countries and cultures, exemplifying diversity and inclusion. It is very reassuring that the court extended that philosophy to include people with disabilities.