When you are a child and seeking your identity, you of course look for role models. And they are everywhere – on TV, in books and in the conversations generated by those symbols.
As we slowly and often painfully learn, many of those role models are fiction and unattainable. We gradually come to realize this, but in the meantime our self-esteem can take a beating.
A lot of these often-unobtainable images involve not only outrageous beauty but sleek athleticism. Of course, the iconic Barbie doll comes to mind – dancing, surfing or roller-blading with Ken.
That’s why it was so refreshing to see that Mattel has done a “Barbie makeover.” She and similar dolls are now available in wheelchairs, prosetic legs and other bodily variations that look – like real people.
That, along with the increasing number of people with disabilities seen on television shows, magazines and even emojis, is helping to shape a sense that having a disability should not cause people to feel unworthy. On the contrary, it reminds all of us that to be different is to be human.
In the early 20th Century, several U.S. cities had laws that actually forbade people with disabilities from showing themselves in public.
These were the notorious “Ugly Laws.” For example, Chicago’s law forbade anyone who was “diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object from being in the public view.”
Those laws are gone now, but there are still people who would prefer not to have to look at those of us with disabilities. And one of them appears to be our president.
Recently, President Trump met with several members of the U.S. Paralympic team, to congratulate them on games well played. But while he was honoring them and calling them “inspirational,” he also said he had only watched “as much as I could” of the games. This was because, “It was a little tough to watch.”
I have attached links below that show President Trump’s remarks, as well as the very eloquent response to him by the U. S. Paralympic organizers. I will let this information speak for itself.
But isn’t he really saying that he would rather not look at us unless he has to, and wasn’t it this kind of thinking that created the Ugly Laws in the first place?
I love including emojis in my emails. If somone is taking a trip, I’ll often insert a plane or train. If they have accomplished something, I’ll sometimes insert some people dancing and clapping.
Emojis do more than give clues about the writer’s state of mind – they provide a whole extra layer of communication to a very limited medium.
When one peruses the thousands of available emojis, they will find “people” of all different races and cultures, and a seemingly infinite amount of sports, dancing and other activities. But when I was recently looking for something symbolizing a person with a disability, I found only ONE: the above, very familiar (and dare I say boring?) symbol of someone in a wheelchair.
That’s why it was so encouraging to read the Huffington Post article below. It describes a number of new emojis that are being considered for distribution. And for the first time, they all feature people with disabilities.
Is this a big deal? Probably not. But anything that encourages inclusion (rather than stigmatization) deserves at least a smiley face🙂.
Even though Jim Abbott was born without a right hand, he won a gold medal for the 1988 U.S. Olympic baseball team and threw a no- hitter for the New York Yankees. Curtis Pride and Pete Gray, both outfielders, are deaf. And John Lester and Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs and cancer survivors, recently presented their long-suffering fans with a World Series title.
They and other baseball players with disabilities were honored in 2015 by Topps Baseball Cards. In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Topps launched a series of baseball cards honoring players with disabilities.
“People with disabilities are often looked at for what they can’t do instead of being appreciated for what they can do…Imagine if a child or the parent of a child with a disability, by simply opening a pack of baseball cards, discovers that one or their heroes was legally blind or deaf or has battled cancer? They should truly feel empowered and encouraged,” said the Cubs’ medical director Mark O’Neal.
And just a few days ago, the Kansas City Royals signed the first baseball player with autism.
Baseball has a long and proud history of being among the first American institutions to break civil rights barriers. They did it with Jackie Robinson and other racial minorities, and they have also done it with players with disabilities.
Of course, baseball is dimished if people can’t watch it. So in my next post, I’ll talk about the progress made in allowing spectators with disabilities into baseball games.
See the two USA Today articles below (as well as Joe Shapiro’s facebook page) for more information.
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.