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Sarah Palin’s Exception or Family Guy’s Acceptance? February 22, 2010

Posted by Sara Imershein MD in Blogging, Health Communications & Marketing, Mental Health, Prevention.
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With the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) the United States government took huge strides to facilitate acceptance of persons with disabilities into typical American life.  No longer would curbs or steps block entry into society. And with mainstreaming in schools and the workplace disabled Americans can fulfill their American Dreams and contribute, rather than burden society. Families and teachers work hard to incorporate children just as employers, mass transit, and architects have adapted.

So when disabled Americans join the entertainment industry and characters are portrayed as real life people, with real disabilities and real senses of humor – in spite of their limitations, shouldn’t they jump for joy at their inclusive acceptance? Special interest groups from commercial Coca Cola to advocates for public safety position themselves for subtle and not-so-subtle product placement to increase awareness.

Sarah Palin doesn’t agree.  She want exceptions made for her and for Trig, the former governor’s son, born with Down’s Syndrome, a genetic disability with a numerous potential limitations of varying severity. Palin criticised the comedy show for being ‘cruel and cold-hearted” and “not really funny” on the cable show O’Reilly Factor, although she makes exception for Rush Limbaugh’s use of the word retard because he used “satire.”

The front page New York Times Feb 20, 2010 headline read Family Guy vs. Palin: Can Disability Be Funny?” The article fairly portrays the inherent tension between making exceptions for the disabled and accepting the disabled as a part of society, including being teased, poked fun at, laughed at… and laughed with! Furthermore, the article presents the facts; readers easily see the hypocrisy.

read on…

At issue is Ellen, a Family Guy character on the base, irreverent, and overwhelmingly sarcastic cartoon satire. Ellen is a young woman with Down’s Syndrome who responds to her date’s question, “What do your parents do?” saying her father is an accountant and her mother was the former governor of Alaska.  Sarah Palin should be proud! In spite of her limitations the character is a functioning, friendly, funny, fully integrated into society, articulate, young person who is out on a date!  Sarah Palin and any mother should hope her son will achieve all those adjectives as he grows up. Full potential is what it’s all about – every American should have the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. That’s why we put in the ramps, mainstream classmates, and provide assistance to level the playing field.

Of interest, the character Ellen’s voice is portrayed by real life actress-with-Down’s-Syndrome, Andrea Fay Friedman who responded to Palin’s complaints:

In an e-mail message sent to The New York Times, Ms. Friedman wrote, “I guess former Governor Palin does not have a sense of humor.” She added that in her family, “we think laughing is good,” and that she was raised by her parents “to have a sense of humor and to live a normal life.”

Ms. Friedman continued, “My mother did not carry me around under her arm like a loaf of French bread the way former Governor Palin carries her son Trig around looking for sympathy and votes.”

In a telephone interview on Thursday, Ms. Friedman, who has also appeared in television shows like “Life Goes On” and “Saving Grace,” said she was perplexed by Ms. Palin’s criticism.

“I’m like, ‘I’m not Trig. This is my life,’ ” Ms. Friedman said. “I was making fun of Sarah Palin, but not her son.”

Huffington Post Blogger Ellen Seidman slams Palin for not recognizing the benefits of Family Guy’s attention to Down’s Syndrome.  Seidman, the mother of a boy with cerebral palsy, said:

here’s what I saw: I saw little Stewie respond to Ellen, the girl with Down syndrome, in the same way that people respond to my son. When he remarked, “There’s something up with her!”I thought, BRILLIANT! I want people to hear just how they sound when they make remarks like that.

Later on, when Chris gets frustrated with Ellen because she’s pulling a diva act and shouts, “You know, I used to hear that people with Down syndrome were different than the rest of us. But you’re not! You’re not different at all! You’re just a bunch of [BLEEPS!] like everyone else!” I nearly stood up and applauded.  HELLLLLOOOO, America! People with disabilities are people just like everyone else.

I think that means people with disabilities have a sense of humor.  Sarah Palin does not.

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