ABC’s new reality series “Miracle Workers” is insulting to people with disabilities.

According to the show’s Web site, the program is “a life-changing new series about real people overcoming insurmountable odds with the help of an elite team of medical professionals.”

But it’s a pandering show that exploits the lives and stories of people with disabilities, and it uses offensive cliches and destructive myths to drive up the show’s ratings.

The first episode featured Vanessa, who, according to the Web site, “loves people and dreams of opening her own flower shop.” But because she needs a wheelchair for mobility, she’s had to “put her dreams on hold.”

Destructive myth 1: Having a disability means deferring all your dreams, except the dream to be cured.

On the program, Vanessa undergoes surgery that her doctor says is so dangerous that one misstep could cause her to quickly bleed to death.

Destructive myth 2: People with disabilities want and need so badly to be cured that any risk is well worth taking.

Another person featured in the first episode is Todd, who has been blind for 22 years. The show’s site says, “All he wishes is to be able to see the ocean, the stars and the faces of his own children.” Todd’s sister says that because he is blind, he “doesn’t even realize how beautiful his children are.”

Destructive myth 3: You can’t fully experience the richness of life when you have a disability.

After Todd’s first surgery fails, he says, “For the first time in my life, I feel handicapped. I feel helpless.”

Destructive myth 4: People with disabilities are helpless.

In the end, surgeries restore some of Todd’s vision and Vanessa’s ability to walk.

Destructive myth 5: The problems people with disabilities encounter are all because of our diagnoses, and, thus, all the solutions lie in the hands of medical professionals.

Instead, a reality show about people with disabilities that resemble folks like me and others I know would be much different. It would start with people who are not ashamed – but are in fact proud – of who we are. You’d see us avoiding doctors and surgeries, preferring instead to use our time and energy enjoying life. When we do seek the help of technology or medicine, that’s when you’ll really see us struggle. Most of us rely on bureaucracies like Medicaid and Medicare that make us fight like hell to get them to pay for basics like wheelchairs, let alone for million-dollar miracle cures.

“Miracle Workers” will probably become a feel-good hit because it oversimplifies a complex social dynamic. It reinforces the comforting myth that if people with disabilities are on the fringes, it is up to us alone to try to fit in better by seizing every opportunity to change who we are. It relieves everyone else of the daunting obligation of doing the hard work of creating a culture that is more welcoming and just.

Network prime time isn’t ready to explore that kind of disability reality.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Mike Ervin is a disability-rights activist with ADAPT (www.adapt.org). He is also producer of “The Strength Coach,” a nationally syndicated radio talk show (www.thestrengthcoach.com). The writer wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; e-mail: pmprojprogressive.org; Web site: www.progressive.org. For information on PMP’s funding, please visit http://www.progressive.org/pmpabout.htmlanchorsupport.

This article was prepared for The Progressive Media Project and is available to KRT subscribers. Knight Ridder/Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of Knight Ridder/Tribune or its editors.


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