Every Labor Day, you can see on TV the annual MDA Telethon with Jerry Lewis as the host. For as long as most of us can remember, he has worked to help raise a countless amount of money to help those with Muscular Dystrophy. Since I personally have MD, I have witnessed firsthand as to the services and help they provide for people with MD. While I am greatly appreciative of his help with raising money for research and help, I do question his thinking about how he portrays people with MD.
Jerry Lewis has helped to perpetuate negative, stereotypical attitudes toward people with muscular dystrophy and other disabilities. Jerry Lewis and the Telethon actively promote pity as a fundraising strategy. Disabled people want respect, not pity. In 1990, Lewis wrote that if he had muscular dystrophy and had to use a wheelchair, he would "just have to learn to try to be good at being a half a person." During the 1992 Telethon, he said that people with MD, whom he always insists on calling "my kids," "cannot go into the workplace. There's nothing they can do." Many people have argued that he uses the Telethon to promote pity, a counterproductive emotion which undermines our social equality. Here's how Lewis responded to the Telethon protesters during a 2001 television interview: "Pity? You don't want to be pitied because you're a cripple in a wheelchair? Stay in your house!"
I do understand his reasoning behind his way of portraying MD in this light. Pity equals money. Just look at some of his old movies where he plays some bumbling idiot. The more we are pitied, the more money people will shell out to help us. This is the reason why most people will never see active people with MD on the Telethon. While I do respect Jerry Lewis for all the help he has done, I wonder if it is worth the price of having most people thinking that we are not equal?