Sunday, April 22, 2012

All natural

           For more than 10 years, I've worked as a public relations coordinator for a disability rights organization in Chicago called Access Living.  In that role, I pitch stories to the media about disability events, disability issues, and people with disabilities.  Sometimes, the pitches lead to a story in which disability is a prominent.  Though it is my job to give voice to disability, and raise awareness around disability, my favorite media stories, in the context of disability, are the stories in which disability takes a back seat to other issues.  The Chicago Tribune features a column called "What's Your Problem?"  a column written by Jon Yates that helps citizens work through situations in which they may have been deprived of what they should be entitled within a business system or a government system.  A few years ago, Yates published one of my all time favorite stories that features disability.  Unfortunately, I can't find that column now and share it here.  But it featured the tale of a young man who was having some kind of issue.  I can't even remember what the issue was.  But somehow, the problem was related to the young man attending his prom, or some sort of high school dance.  At some point in the column, Yates mentioned that the young man's date uses a wheelchair.  The young man's problem, and the column's issue, had nothing to do with the young woman's disability.  Even so, Yates mention of disability was not gratuitous.  It felt natural when it was mentioned.  And that's the point.  At Access Living, and in my work, I try to deliver the message that disability is a natural part of life that impacts each of us in one way or another.  It shouldn't define us, limit us, or give us an advantage.  Yes, people with disabilities are entitled to accommodations that help us perform major life functions. Nevertheless, disability is typical and people with disabilities should have every right to pursue opportunities available to those without disabilities, and people with disabilities should have every right to expect to be treated with the same respect as those without disabilities.  With a simple mention of disability in his column, Yates did what I am assigned to do in my job -- show that disability is natural and that it is no big deal that people with disabilities are among us. 
      In the midst of all the recent attention showered on Game of Thrones, and particularly Peter Dinklage, I was reminded of this column.  Just before the premiere of Season 2, all kinds of articles were published about the hit tv show on HBO, many of them featured Dinklage, who has earned the lead billing on the show.  After one such article was published (again, I can't find it, sorry), my parents called me in a fit of excitement.  "Did you see that article about Dinklage?" they asked.
     "I think so," I answered.
    "It doesn't mention dwarfism once," they continued.
     They were right to be excited.  Just as the Yates "What's Your Problem?" column showed that disability is a natural part of life, an article about Dinklage (who everyone knows is a dwarf) that doesn't mention dwarfism shows that dwarfism is no big deal.  It doesn't define Dinklage and certainly doesn't limit him.  He is just another actor and just another participant in life. 

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