Maman Poulet | Clucking away crookedly through media, politics and life

Time to Boycott People In Need and finish it off

October 17th, 2007 · 13 Comments · Disability, People In Need, Ryan Tubridy, Telethon, Uncategorized

‘Charity advertising serves as the calling-card of an inaccessible society’. David Hevey 1992

In 1981 Evan Kemp wrote in the New York Times about the Jerry Lewis telethon in the USA which raises money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

The telethon emphasizes the desperate helplessness of the most severely disabled. In doing so, it reinforces the public’s tendency to equate handicap with total hopelessness. When a telethon makes disabling conditions seem overwhelmingly destructive, it intensifies the awkward embarrassment that the able-bodied feel around disabled people. By arousing the public’s fear of the handicap itself, the telethon makes viewers more afraid of handicapped people. Playing to pity may raise money, but it also raises walls of fear between the public and us.

Insert homelessness, old age, inner city housing, minority status etc. etc. in the place of disabled or the term at that time – handicapped. Lewis refers to people with MD as ‘his kids’. He has raised millions of dollars for ‘his kids’ over the years. Along side the disability movement has opposed his methods and those of disability groups in the USA and the use of telethons and fund-raising and charity models regarding disability. Lewis mocked his opponents by saying ‘If you don’t want to be pitied because you’re a cripple in a wheelchair…Stay in your house!” (hear it here!)

In the UK the Campaign for Accessible Transport which preceded the Direct Action Network ran a highly successful campaign to stop ITV running their annual Telethon hosted by Michael Aspel. Protests inside and outside the studio saw the Telethon ended in 1992.

It was in these protests that the Rights not Charity chant and ethos was born. Indeed UK activists have identified those protests and the move away from the Telethon and the resulting publicity as being pivotal in a move from a welfare model to one where societies disabling forces were tackled from a rights basis. Comic Relief avoided much of the controversy by avoiding the charity model, reflecting on the disabling society and funding organisations led by people with disabilities that self advocated however I still think they use the sad story to grab at the heart strings in the coverage on many causes that they fund.

In the 8 telethons which have been run in Ireland since 1988, €35 million has been raised. In announcing this year’s campaign the People in Need website says that funds will be used to assist those in social need including grants for service for deprived and disadvantaged groups such as the homeless, the elderly, deprived children and mentally and physically handicapped.’

People in Need and the calls to arms – actually make that alms, by Ryan Tubridy and others will not be about the disabling society – it will be about helping out the poor and unfortunate and giving grants to organisations that are generally not led by people with disabilities – because they won’t be applying for the grants for political reasons or indeed not in a position to do so due to a lack of services, access and human rights. People in Need call us handicapped years after the term was dismissed by people with disabilities.

What we as people with disabilities need are rights based legislation and services and not some bloody blue boot waved in your face with people sitting in baked beans, shaving their legs and pushing hospital beds around. I don’t care if the money used is going to make Johnny more able to get a job or get out to the pub (actually I doubt we’ll have any stories about people with disabilities having real lives) – don’t use Johnny’s story or me or our disabilities to make money – or give able bodied people jobs or make Ryan, Gerry, Joe, and others feel all good about themselves on October 26th.

So I’m asking you not to take part in People in Need events in your company or community – instead ask what your company does to make sure it is accessible to disabled people – ask your TD why we don’t have rights based legislation for people with disabilities in Ireland? Ask why there are waiting lists for services and why the costs of disability and society’s inaccessibility are not covered in payments from the state. Ask why people with disabilities are in nursing homes and not in their own homes with services where they would have dignity, respect and human rights and where money would not be wasted.

I didn’t plan it but I will be on holidays far far away from here when People in Need airs, and I’ll also miss the Celebrities in the Irish Jungle thing that will be running all week before hand. I hope there are other voices of dissent and that the debate takes place here and elsewhere on the farce that is the ‘pat the poor unfortunates on the head whilst looking silly’ PR show for RTE, Dunnes Stores and other major Irish and International companies.



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