In All Fairness: An Open Letter To Everyone About Disability Equality

Okay- this has gone on long enough. I, as a person living with a disability, would like to address the comments made by Meryl Streep  during the Golden Globes last night and dozens of others over the last several months in regards to the incident(1) where President-Elect Trump was accused of mocking a reporter living with a disability because the man has a disability.

Let’s get one thing straight. I want people with disabilities to be treated fairly and equally. I have devoted my life to disability education, awareness, and empowerment. I will never sit idly by as someone mocks, insults, or abuses another due to his or her disability.

That being said, please notice the emphasis on the words fairly and equally. Going back to the above mentioned event, President-Elect Trump mocked New York Times’ reporter Serge F. Kovaleski with stuttering words and spastic arm movements. Mr. Kovaleski lives with arthrogryposis(2), a condition that causes contractures and weakness in the joints. As soon as the incident occurred, many were outraged and accused President-Elect Trump of using his movements and verbalizations to mock Mr. Kovaleski because of his disability.

But here is the kicker. Mr. Kovaleski doesn’t have spasticity or any impediments to his verbalization. Take a moment to watch this video where Mr. Kovaleski is involved in an interview. Unless his disability has changed since 2013 in some way that I can’t find, he has no spasticity or impediments to his verbalization.

So why did President-Elect Trump use stuttering words and spastic arm movements to mock Mr. Kovaleski? According to President-Elect Trump, he was referring to Mr. Kovaleski “groveling to take back the statement they made,”(3) and that he “merely mimicked what I thought would be a flustered reporter trying to get out of a statement he made long ago.”(4)

While there are many who refuse to believe President-Elect Trump’s explanation, I wanted to see if his action of stuttering words and spastic arm movements to mock others was unique to this incident and specifically used to describe Mr. Kovaleski, or if it was a commonly used action when referring to others who are flustered. I found this video where he uses the same actions when referring to Senator Ted Cruz, and this video (in the same speech as the one referring to Mr. Kovaleski) where he uses the same actions when referring to a general. Neither of these men have a documented physical disability.

From the information I have been able to find, President Elect-Trump’s action when referring to Mr. Kovaleski was in reference to his being flustered during a statement, and nothing to do with his disability. President-Elect Trump was treating Mr. Kovaleski just as he had others in similar situations. He was treating him fairly and equally, and he was not mocking Mr. Kovaleski’s disability.

Instead of accusing President-Elect Trump of disability shaming, I have other questions. Why do we see his movements and verbalizations and automatically contribute them to a person living with a disability? Why aren’t we doing more about empowering people with disabilities and supporting their employment in mainstream journalism? And why is Meryl Streep okay with using an incident including a person with a disability to make a point about bullying, and then laugh at jokes throughout the rest of the Golden Globes evening directed at President-Elect Trump?

Now before anyone starts bringing up other incidents of President-Elect Trump making comments that were offensive, or of comments that were made by former Secretary Clinton during the election that were offensive, let me stop you. I am speaking as a person living with a disability about an event that focused around people with disabilities- nothing else. And I will say it again. I will never condone anyone mocking a person because of their disability, but I will say that I believe that we, as a disability community, are fair game when it comes to being held accountable for our words and actions towards others.

That is what being treated fairly and equally is all about.