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John Robinson

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Enough of the Freak Show Oprah

Posted: 12/20/11 06:00 PM ET

So much for celebrating difference, it's the circus all over again! History repeats itself. You would think I would've learned. It's my fault for believing in something better. "Step right up and see the bearded lady, lizard skinned boy..." Enough already!

Recently, I wrote a blog mentioning Zach Anner's new OWN program. About time we have a national program - right? I agree, but...come on. Do we have to propagate the "freak-show stereotype!"

There is no other diversity group that would allow this discourse. Come look at Zach on the zip-line, rollercoaster (have I got a rollercoaster story for you), kayak, etc. Stare at Zach! How about Doug running a company, Jayne landing the big comedy headline, or John successfully producing a video?

For hundreds of years we have been trying to get people not to look at us as abnormal freak shows, but people with offerings in education and employment. There are a million veterans coming into the workforce looking for employment with an estimated 30-50% with disabilities. Why not a program of real people with disabilities - one of the 6.6 million employed with a disability according to a Cornell study - to inspire those million new candidates?

If you watch TV today, you still get the Little People with the family conflict, or Zach. You do not get the education, family or business.

It really pisses me off. I have kids looking up to me with what I do and want answers about there own lives. How will I make it in business? They aren't asking how can I get more people to stare at me! Come on...

From Oprah Winfrey of all people - Oprah an Entrepreneur/Entertainer/CEO who has advanced women in media and in business more than any other person, Oprah who helped advance America beyond skin color in the last election - has a program mocking disability and propagating the "freak show!"

We at Our Ability understand the need to balance entertainment and education. No one wants to watch a classroom lecture about any subject on television. But, there is a balance. There has to be better than mocking people with disabilities. This is a time of great change when there are more people with disabilities who served our country in Iraq/Afghanistan. There are more and more children born with Autism with parents wondering their children's fate. We can inspire rather than destroy.

Recently, we spoke to someone inside PBS about an Our Ability program, and they had an interesting response. They said they were not sure if it fit within their funded programming mission. I asked if it isn't about educating people about differences, then what is? I guess even PBS is looking at an OWN and TLC model.

I went to a college football game with my family in the recent past. I was walking in the crowd towards my car and noticed people staring as they always do, but this felt different. A young man was videotaping me with his cell phone. He thought I was funny enough to share with his friends for amusement. It's great to be entertained, but even better to be educated about diversity. Instead of continuing to produce programs that contribute to the "dumbing down of America," let us all ask for more. Unfortunately, I do not think it will happen.

 
 
 

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