- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

Comedian Jerry Lewis is finding out the hard way just how virulent the forces of political correctness can be. The 35 years he's spent hosting the annual telethon that bears his name do not matter; neither do the more than $2 billion he's raised for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), including a record $56.8 million this year. All of that is forgotten, dismissed over a malaprop committed by an elderly man who may not be up to speed on the latest edition of the politically correct lexicon.
Mr. Lewis referred to disabled people in an interview as "cripples" and expressed his opinion that the "pity" people feel toward those with physical infirmities can be used effectively as a fund-raising method. Result? Protests at Gallaudet University in Washington and elsewhere condemning the man for his verbal gaffe. "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," said Bobby Coward of the American Disabled for Attendant Programs (ADAPT). Mr. Coward huffed that it was an "insult" for Mr. Lewis to suggest that people might feel pity toward the disabled or "differently abled," as the politically correct term has it. "We need to show people that many of us lead useful lives and contribute to society," Mr. Coward added.
That's certainly true and from Mr. Lewis' comments, it doesn't appear that he believes otherwise. But it says nothing about the perfectly natural impulse to feel pity (yes, that's the right word) toward people unlucky enough to be confined to a wheelchair or stricken with a degenerative disease. Mr. Lewis simply stated in plain language what all of us feel or have felt, and which would be unnatural not to feel. That disabled people often work around their disabilities does not obviate the fact that they are, well, disabled. Is it awful, pernicious or "mean spirited" to admit this truth? According to the adjudicators of political correctness, the answer is yes. We're not supposed to notice that disabled people are in any way different from those without disabilities, even airline pilots or truck drivers with poor vision, or perhaps only one good eye, as has indeed been at issue under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
It's sad that language has become so politicized, and that one man's lifetime of service on behalf of the disabled should be voided as the punishment for not keeping up to date with PC orthodoxies. Mr. Lewis deserves a little latitude here, and the PC police need to ease up a bit.


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