Disabling harmful myths Documentary: Public Radio series examines misconceptions faced by people with disabilities. It will be carried locally by WEAA-FM.

May 31, 1998|By Mary Ann Farrell | Mary Ann Farrell,KNIGHT-RIDDER/TRIBUNE

People respond to the disabled differently.

It's a fact of life, one that Massachusetts documentarian Laurie S. Block knows all too well: She has one 11-year-old twin who has a spinal disability and one who does not.

Their experiences gave Block an idea to fight the prejudices and misconceptions that the disabled face. The result is "Beyond Affliction: The Disability History Project," a four-part National Public Radio series.

Starting Tuesday at 6 p.m., WEAA-FM, the NPR station at Morgan State University, will begin airing the series in the Baltimore area.

The series deals with the historical relationship between charity and disability, the effect of U.S. public policy and social welfare on the 50 million Americans with disabilities, the growing civil rights movement, and the impact of modern prenatal medicine on life-altering choices.

Block interviewed "the known and the unknown" -- national advocates such as Judith Heumann and John Kemp of Washington and historians such as Ken Stein of Oakland, Calif., and Martin Pernick of Ann Arbor, Mich.

Block learned about her daughter's condition in utero. "As a child, she was dealing with attitudes constantly," Block says. "I began to wonder where these attitudes came from, how people arrived at them. It was a whole body of experiences I had never encountered. One could see it, too, because here were twins and yet they were being responded to differently. I wanted to know the roots of these attitudes."

With state and federal grants, she and co-producer Jay Allison researched archives, literature, history and popular culture. Many of the myths people have toward those with disabilities became firmly implanted by the 1820s.

"You'd see it in such things as [Protestant] Sunday school literature," Block says. "There was a whole body of moral literature, a subset, if you will, all about people with chronic conditions and how they should be behaving and how people who didn't have these conditions should be behaving toward them, all theologically based, concerning acts of pity, benevolence and charity."

Block even found literature on how children with disabilities could become "useful." She then takes these issues all the way up to present times, and our so-called need for "poster children."

"We know, most of us do, our common assumptions about gender, age, race. We don't know what they are about people with disabilities," Block says. "My hope is if people will listen, they'll begin to think about what those assumptions are and that the media will understand them, too."

To listen

"Beyond Affliction: The Disability History Project," a four-part National Public Radio series, will air from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday on WEAA-FM 88.9. Information: 202-414-3232.

FOR DISABLED ATHLETES

More than 200 athletes with amputations or orthopedic impairments will compete at the Orthotics and Prosthetics National Summer Games from 9 a.m. to 5: 30 p.m. June 12-14 at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. The games are conducted by Disabled Sports USA of Rockville, Md., a member of the Olympic Committee.

Participants do not need to qualify. They'll compete for a chance to go to the world championships in Birmingham, England.

Information: 703-836-7114.

Mayor's Commission

Baltimoreans are invited to the Mayor's Commission on Disabilities annual public forum on Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Elder Health Inc., 1001 W. Pratt St. Topic: "Accessible Public and Private Transportation in Baltimore City."

Information: 410-396-9944. TTY Maryland Relay 1-800-735-2258.

Pub Date: 5/31/98

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