Saturday, March 15, 2014

Stunned, Angered and Lost for Words

I saw this video the other day, sent to me by someone who said that she thought of some of the blogs I've written about how people respond to disability, and reacted quite strongly to the message. It isn't captioned so let me just briefly outline what the voice over says. It's a man telling about his life and showing people react to him with overt friendliness, as to a child, offering to pay for his coffee, offering to give him a seat on the bus, offering him a balloon when shopping. In the end he says that he is a MAN. It is a clear message about how people with intellectual disabilities, and specifically those with Down Syndrome, have to fight to be recognized and treated as an adult.

I was carried along with the message of the video and then the very end, the actual very end slapped me hard in the face. I roared inside with upset and anger. Good God! Don't people think!!!

The last thing you see is the name of the company who created the video and their slogan.

Pro Infirmis: We make handicaps disappear.

Let's leave the term 'handicap' aside, but really ... WTF?

People with Down Syndrome are heading towards being 'disappeared' ... science is hunting them down, prejudice is approving of elimination, history taught but no one was listening.

"We make handicaps disappear."

What the fuck is that about?

So many organizations and agencies which support people with disabilities have slogans that astonish me ... 'seeing beyond disability' ... 'taking the focus off disability' ... 'overcoming disability' ...  those kind of things. Yikes. Disability is not something that needs to be 'overcome' or 'ignored' or 'disappeared.' Disability just IS. It is a part of the human condition. When you support people with disabilities with and speak negatively about who they are in yours corporate tag line - questions need to be asked.

But given the violent history of people with disabilities ... 'We make handicaps disappear' may be the worst offender that I've ever seen. And I've seen many.

And for the record I son'd want my disability to be 'seen beyond' or 'ignored' or overcome and I sure as hell don't want to be disappeared.

I am still apoplectic as I write this, I'm lost for words.

Hopefully you won't be ... talk to me in the comments. How do you respond to this ...?


Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

this is outrageous!

I have no idea how to respond to this other than telling the people of the agency to actually "start thinking!".

Maybe someone else has a better way to express the absolute wrongness of this slogan...


gps said...

I am pretty sure that Pro Infirmis is not supporting the extermination of people with disabilities..... They are also the ones who put out a video a while back of manniquins modeled on various people with obvious physical disabilities, which were then dressed fashionably and placed prominently in a "boutique" display window. I agree that the phrasing is awkward/ambiguous, but the sense I get is that they seek to create a world where the disability is not the focus of attention, and is not literally "disappeared", but simply becomes "normal".

Dave Hingsburger said...

gps, I'm with Julia here ... the slogan is wrong for so many reasons. I understand that they are not promoting the extermination of people with disabilities but people with disabilities have experienced extermination. Can you imagine a firm who wanted more acceptance of people of different faiths using a slogan 'Making Judaism disappear'? THINK. Words matter, we know that. I loved this commercial and I loved the mannequins one too. But the slogan needs changing. Their ads show sensitivity, their slogan should too.

Anonymous said...

Oh, dear. Well-intentioned, but not at all what they meant to mean. "We make unsightly septic installations disappear", promises the landscaping company.

The seeing of handicaps, and those with them, has been one of the great advances of my lifetime.

Not "We make handicaps/disability normal", either. They are/ it is already.

I suppose "We treat people like people" isn't 'uplifting' enough. "We don't make a fuss about disability."

Maybe the problem is that there always has to be a slogan, and slogans have to be uplifting in half a dozen words.

Sensible video, followed by name and logo of company, no slogan. Let what it does speak louder than slogans. I commend this idea to the house.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave,:

Because I teach a course on history for DSWs, my blood ran cold when I saw that motto about making disabilities disappear. It invalidated any "good" message in the commercial. Also, my thought was that this guy's problem is clearly not Down Syndrome - it is how other people are treating him - which is a good message. Which they then totally obliterate by promising to make disability disappear.

The scary thing is that most people don't know the history.


Dave Hingsburger said...

Anon above, there are some slogans that would work ... challenging stereotypes, one by one ... towards an inclusive world ... breaking barriers ... making communities inclusive ... I'm no ad writer but talk eliminating barriers and prejudice NOT disabilities.

John R. said...

yup....the road to hell is paved with good intentions, Dave. I really like the clip and love the acting etc....I watched other Pro Infimis ads. The slogan is not ok. That is that. No arguments. Disability is part of diversity and our beauty of the human experience. Making it go away is nothing short of eugenics-think. Thanks for shining the light once again.

gps said...

Yes, I agree with that. I wonder how the folks at Pro Infirmis would respond. Given that they are actually on "the right side" of things and just didn't think through how those particular words would land. I think another part of it is the way that many people do look at it like Evangelicals look at homosexuality: "Hate the disability, love the disabled." As in, we can love you as a person, but that disability thing has got to go, so let's fix you so you fit in. And of course, that's a slippery slope, because the motivation for "fixing" has to come from the person, not from the outside. So some people want some things to be "fixed", but others don't.

gps said...

Oh, and yes, I am Jewish, and "Making Judaism disappear" would definitely push buttons... and then there's Lennon:
"Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too..."

What's with that...?
I think we all know where Lennon was coming from.

Anonymous said...

Dave, you're right. In the social arena, the social model is applicable.

Or the other side of the same coin, building bridges (ramps, maybe).

Same anon again.

Anonymous said...

I am outraged by seeing the message, "Making Handicaps Disappear". I can only equate it to the so called members of society who use the "R" word and quickly explain their use away by stating- "Oh, I didn't mean it THAT way". The words are there in black and white... ready to be interpreted by society, a society full of individuals who would like nothing more then to be rid of folks affected by disability. This agency should know better than to add a slogan that is/could be taken so literally. While these public service announcements/ads are intended to educate communities supporting disabled individuals they tend to do more harm than good. I recall several years ago, when our child was dx'd as Autistic. We were told to reallocate any funding we had set aside for her education into a trust fund to support her when we were no longer alive. (She was 4 yrs old at the time), we were also told to go home and watch a video from Autism Speaks about what our life would be like partenting a child with Autism. The first few minutes provided a snap shot of what was to come in the documentary. A mother, who was the parent to, two little girls one with Autism- one without. The mother talked about wanting to drive off a bridge with her Autistic daughter to end their misery. The only thing that kept her from doing so, was her non-autistic, typically developing daughter. This is what was suggested to parents of recently diagnosed children with Autism to watch. Message heard: "Having a child with a disability will make you want to end your life and their life as well - the only thing that will keep you going is having a normal child." Needless to say, the Diagnostic Team recieved feedback within moments of my watching the video.

When educating the pucblic in regards to supporting and including disabled individuals we have to thoroughly ensure that there is no gray area in our message. That the message we want to send, is the message we DO send.

Anonymous said...

The only slogan anyone needs is used by the US Army: 'Be all that you can be.'

Disabled people have enough work - like everyone else - being the best they can be (not perfect, not cured, and certainly not disappeared). We work at it every day, have successes and failures like everyone else.

We don't need the additional job of being inspirational or of educating everyone else.


Anonymous said...

When I first saw it the other day I was a bit blown away and felt the slogan completely negated the message. Disability is normal. It gave a song I recently heard a new meaning. "The Man" by Aloe Blacc.
You can tell everybody
Go ahead and tell everybody
I'm the man
I'm the man
Yes I am
Yes I am.
Isn't that the real message?

Purpletta said...

Great video! Horrible it's English translation...

Another perspective is that our culture has defined "handicaps" to connote there is something about * the person * as opposed to the concept that handicap has to do with the constructs of society that create barriers and exclusion.

Pro Infirmis is a German-based organization. From the German translation of "handicap" one gets disability but one also gets barrier, and all of the societal constructs that cause disability to be a handicap. The original video in German states the slogan as "Wir Schaffen Behinderung Ab"
Wir Schaffen... Ab = We Get Rid of

But "behinderung" according to Babylon on-line translations In Part translates as
"...In educational terms a handicap represents the limitations imposed on an individual by society,...Handicap in so far has to be understood as a construct of society..."

... If indeed this is a correct understanding of this term and if indeed this is what Pro Infirmis intended, I much prefer the German culture or German language concept of "handicap." The English translation though is bothersome beyond words


B. said...

Interesting - I guess I'm so used to my different lifestyle I wouldn't have taken it that way, Dave. But I can see your point of view.

It is so common for the so-called normal world to neglect to consult the people they think they are trying to help.

I would have been much more impressed if the message had been more directed at the 'normals'. There are many different people wandering around (we are only just starting to respect diversity). Maybe something like if you can be so nice to some people why not most people you interact with throughout the day.... (the smiles, the little gifts, the benefit of the doubt in actions, etc.).

Anonymous said...

I think we shouldn’t make judgements about translations from languages that are not our own. I’m fairly fluent in a language that I didn’t grow up with and I find it’s important to check my understanding of language in situations like this. We can do a direct translation of handicap and as others have said, pick up all the burden of what this word signifies in English, which may be different than in German. And in English there are ways of understanding handicap- for example in the handicap-disability-impairment distinctions drawn in the WHO model, which I wouldn’t want to operationalise outside of a theoretical medical context, yet with that understanding, yes, handicaps can disappear.
I would want to ask German speakers with disabilities living in the area where this was made about their understandings.This may be people like Julia, and Julia, as you find it outrageous too, all i’ve said is maybe irrelevant!

Anonymous said...

I found it chilling. That it was in German didn't help AT ALL. That may have been a knee-jerk reaction, and maybe I'm wrong for even mentioning it. But there it is.


PS Dave, if this observation will lend nothing to the conversation, please don't post it. Your call.

tekeal said...

pro infirmis is an organisation in switzerland, where i live. they clearly do amazing work advocating for the rights of disabled people, and i agree- have clearly made a big mistake with their slogan.
i will be contacting them and will let you know their response.