Selling Tragedy

Posted June 23rd, 2008 by Anthony

It’s been months since I had been in a meeting discussing disability topics. (I’ve been spending most of my time helping get SoCo Depot up and running.) The meeting was at a conference sponsored by the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs (ADP). The disabled people in the room were explaining to the ADP administrators what was needed. For instance, people with disabilities can’t find accessible
treatment.

We got around to prevention, that is preventing alcohol and other drug problems. We weren’t talking about the problems in the disability community unfortunately. We were talking about how the image and story of a wheelchair user who got his disability through his own DUI could be used to warn people about drinking and driving.

That’s all fine and good but these kinds of stories about the horror of having a disability have been problematic in the past. They reinforce the societal stereotypes about our lives being a tragedy—one of the most horrible things that could happen to anyone. For instance, Jerry Lewis has used heart-rending stories to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association for decades. Our mundane, day-to-day experience
of one of the inevitabilities of the human experience is once again misconstrued and sensationalized.

The best, in a bad way, of alcohol prevention people using disability to scare people into not
drinking comes from the Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Canada, Your Best Friend.

But maybe there’s a way we can say that drinking and driving could lead to an AFGO (another effing growth opportunity). As much as I value my disability identity, experience, and community it’s been hard work.
Actually, I wouldn’t recommend getting a disability to anyone but if it comes your way it can, with effort, have many positive aspects. So, “Don’t drink and drive (shoot, telephone, or skateboard) ’cause you don’t want to have another AFGO.” I think I can live with that.

If you’re interested in an in-depth examination of the uses of disability imagery in prevention messages Caroline Wang published an excellent paper in the Journal of Health Communication, Volume 3, pp. 149–159, 1998, Portraying Stigmatized Conditions: Disabling Images in Public Health.


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