"You don't want to be pitied for being a

cripple in a wheelchair?


That's how Jerry Lewis expressed his contempt for people with disabilities in a CBS interview on May 20, 2001.

If you don't hear the contempt -- the shameless bigotry -- in that statement, try substituting the minority group:

  1. You don't want to be harassed for being a broad? Stay in your house!
  2. You don't want to be beat up for being a fag? Stay in your house!
  3. You don't want to be stopped for being a nigger? Stay in your house!

Now you hear it, right? It's not just the old derogatory word. It's the message that we have to accept the prejudices of other people or stay off the streets. For people with disabilities who have fought hard to be free of institutional lock-up and confinement in back bedrooms, this message is unacceptable.

It's especially outrageous that Lewis is the chief spokesman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a multimillion dollar charity whose telethon is being aired for over 20 hours in over 200 cities this weekend. For decades, MDA and Lewis have used pity to raise money. To give just a few examples, Lewis has called --

  1. people with muscle diseases "half persons,"
  2. wheelchairs "steel imprisonments," and
  3. disabled children "mistakes who came out wrong."

The telethon gives the public the idea that we have one foot in the grave and our only hope of happiness or usefulness is if they find a cure. That's not only insulting, but false. These messages get in the way when we try to live our lives.

Here's what we want MDA to do:

  1. Give Jerry the boot. A notorious bigot has no place in a real charity.
  2. Stop using children. Adults may consent to their own exploitation, but children shouldn't hear on live TV that they're about to die. Some of us who heard that message as children -- and believed it -- are now sprouting gray hairs.
  3. Get an honest independent accounting of the telethon.
  4. Do good without doing harm.

Here's our message to the general public:

  1. Don't appear on the telethon. Don't send your kids.
  2. Give to organizations that don't insult the people they are supposed to serve.
  3. Support the struggle for accessibility, inclusion, and disability rights.
  4. If you must give to MDA, do it anonymously, some other time of the year.
  5. Go to www.cripcommentary.com/LewisVsDisabilityRights.html and express your support.

And, please be assured --

We're not staying in our houses!