- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2001

Disability activists yesterday gathered at Gallaudet University to protest the annual "Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon."
Mr. Lewis, who has raised close to $2 billion over 35 years of hosting the Labor Day telethon, has been criticized by some disability activists for what they call "offensive comments and the use of pity as a tactic to raise money."
Money from the fund-raiser goes to the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) to help fight more than 40 neuromuscular diseases by providing research, and medical and support services to about 230 MDA-supported clinics around the world.
This year's show earned a record $56.8 million in contributions and pledges, said the MDA. Last year, the telethon took in roughly $54 million and was seen by 75 million viewers worldwide.
But disability activists dismiss financial and medical successes because of the way the telethon portrays people with disabilities.
Mr. Lewis responded to the criticism in May during an interview on CBS: He advised disability activists to stay in their houses if they didn't want to be pitied because they were "cripple" and in wheelchairs.
About 60 people showed up yesterday in front of the conference center at Gallaudet, a site of the local broadcast of the telethon.
Bobby Coward, spokesman for the regional chapter of the American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT), a civil rights advocacy group for the disabled, said it is "an insult" that Mr. Lewis' telethon raises money through pity of the disabled.
The "pity-method" mars the image of the disabled persons movement to become productive members of society, Mr. Coward said. "It sets the disabilities movement back to a time when Americans didn't understand that being in a wheelchair doesn't mean being in a steel prison."
"We need to show people that many of us lead useful lives and contribute to society," he said.
Michael Cooke, a volunteer activist, said he heard about the rally from friends and it piqued his curiosity that anyone would be protesting an effort to raise money for people with disabilities.
"I have respect for what Lewis is trying to do," Mr. Cooke said. "But I now see [the telethon] as a dysfunctional family, with Jerry Lewis as the father not listening to his grown-up kids."
Chris Kaftan, president of the student body government at Gallaudet and one of the rally's speakers, said, "Jerry Lewis attracts people, but by using the wrong method."
"He needs to stop using that word 'pity,'" Mr. Kaftan said. "People that are disabled are not to be pitied. We've been through a lot, but we don't need to be pitied."
Rallies like the one at Gallaudet were held in more than a dozen cities around the country yesterday, said Marcie Roth, a spokeswoman from the National Council on Independent Living.


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