There are some traditions in life that are as American as apple pie. One of those traditions is the annual Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. The telethon is held to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and is typically shown for 24 hours live, though sometimes they air pre-recorded stories in the wee hours while everyone is sleeping, instead of live footage. As the name of the telethon implies, it is hosted by comedian and actor Jerry Lewis.
Lewis spends the entire telethon requesting donations to find a cure for the 40+ neuromuscular diseases that fall under the term Muscular Dystrophy. Unfortunately, unlike apple pie it may fail to leave a warm, sweet taste in your mouth. Instead, for some it turns out sad, bitter, and bigoted, which is not good for anyone involved.
For the past 16 years a growing number of disabled people have been picketing the MDA telethon and the inclusion of Jerry Lewis in the organization that is meant to help people with disabilities. These people, many of them who prefer to be called Jerry’s Orphans, are a group that feels the telethon promotes a message of pity and weakness among the disabled.
Everyone can agree that pity is the absolute last thing anyone needs. It does not matter whether they are in a wheelchair or not. These individuals also feel that MDA has lost its true meaning, which was supposed to be to help the disabled…all the disabled with Muscular Dystrophy, not just a select few.
These days, looking on the website, the telethon, and other forms of media you primarily see the children in their wheelchairs and leg braces. Where are the adults who once were on the telethons? We cannot assume all of them are deceased now can we, because I know for a fact that this is not true.
The Jerry’s Orphans organization, which has taken to picketing any venue with Jerry Lewis present, has caused a hailstorm of criticism. Accusations have been tossed back and forth from the disabled to the non-disabled. So, who is right, the private, corporate machine that has the ability to say one thing and do another or the people that live this life every day and have a chance to understand first hand what they need and what they are missing?