Yesterday, former Jeopardy champion and aspiring TV host, Ken Jennings made a highly offensive comment on Twitter. Many of his 177,000+ followers reacted with harsh criticism and several media outlets soon picked up on the storm, reporting on his comment and the ensuing furor online.
So who really cares about Ken Jennings or what he said. He is, after all, a self-described “fixture of yesteryear.” We could jump on the bandwagon and bash Ken for being none-too-bright when it comes to sharing your private thoughts on such a public forum, especially if you’re trying to build a fan base to launch another 15 minutes of fame. We could point out all that is wrong with this statement, but that’s hardly necessary. Those 41 characters pretty much say everything you need to know (as does the fact that almost 23 hours hence, after plenty of criticism, he has not attempted to remove the post.)
But for organizations like UCP, which have spent the better part of 65 years advocating to give people with disabilities the opportunities they need to fully participate in their communities and in our society, this is a teachable moment.
The lesson here is that for all of our progress – greater accessibility to public places, innovations in technology to make day-to-day life easier, reducing discrimination in education, housing and the workplace, more and better public services and support – we really haven’t accomplished much if people with disabilities are still regarded as “less than” people without disabilities.
It is that attitude that is so evident in Mr. Jenning’s post. He’s telling the world that using a wheelchair somehow diminishes what he would consider an otherwise attractive person.
That is sad. But it’s not sad for us. It’s only sad for Mr. Jennings and others like him who have not yet understood that disability doesn’t mean diminished. If we can use this unfortunate moment to make people stop and think for a moment – and possibly check their own attitudes – then we have a truly teachable moment. Maybe Mr. Jennings has given us a gift and offered us some knowledge about the prejudices that still lurk under the surface.
I’ll take “Enlightenment” for $1000, Alex.