The Oscars are about to insult people with disabilities.

At the Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 22, the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will present its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to Jerry Lewis.

Lewis is notorious for making disparaging remarks about others, particularly gay people and women.

But he has said equally degrading things about people with disabilities.

For decades, disability rights activists have criticized how his annual telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association exploits people with disabilities by making us into objects of pity.

To this, Lewis responded in 2001, “You don’t want to be pitied because you’re a cripple in a wheelchair, stay in your house!”

Lewis becomes particularly enraged when those who protest against his telethon and him are people with muscular dystrophy — like me.

In a 1993 article in Vanity Fair magazine, he said about me, “This one kid in Chicago would have passed through this life and never had the opportunity to be acknowledged by anybody, but he found out that by being a dissident he gets picked up in a limo by a television station.”

The damage Lewis has done to the disability community goes far beyond name-calling. He and his telethon symbolize an antiquated and destructive 1950s charity mentality.

This says that people with disabilities have no hope and nothing to offer unless we are cured, so the whole focus should be raising money for behemoth charities that can find that cure.

This is a dangerously simplistic outlook.

It devalues and dehumanizes people with disabilities by suggesting we can be worthy contributors only if we first shed our disabilities.

It gives people permission to avoid addressing the daunting task of creating an inclusive society if they simply make an annual contribution to Jerry.

Disability rights activists still fight daily to shatter the barriers that exclude and segregate people with disabilities. Those barriers are rooted in the outmoded charity mentality.

Lewis and his telethon are the primary force that perpetuates that mentality.

By giving Lewis this honor, the board of governors of the Academy shows that its view of people with disabilities and our potential has not evolved in 50 years.

Mike Ervin is a Chicago-based writer and a disability-rights activist with ADAPT ( He can be reached at

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Forty years ago the UN General Assembly passed a resolution against "hostile environmental modification techniques...

The beauty and the tragedy of everyday life in a war zone.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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