Disability Rights

Oscar Patronizes the Disabled Community

I’m ashamed to want to be a part of the film industry right now. The Executive Director of the Academy of Motion Pictures, Bruce Davis responded to a letter by a group of disability rights activists. I found the letter to be extremely condescending, talking down to the activists. Furthermore, he makes it clear that the Academy knows about all of the things Jerry has said about his supposed “kids” and that they’ve looked past that to see the good Jerry has done.

You can read the letter by clicking here. A response letter from the activists is here. I believe it was eloquently written and respectful despite Mr. Davis clearly talking down to individuals in the group.

I would like to answer at least one of Mr. Davis’ claims. In this letter, he seems to imply that it is a ONE MAN show that sets up the telethon. That is not true. In fact, I’d be HIGHLY surprised if Lewis does anything but emcee the telethon. Speaking from experience I know the structure of how a telethon works. In fact, my entire family volunteered for over 10 different telethons. I was in the thick of the planning. In truth, the hosts of the telethon have very little to do with the planning. Their main purpose is to HOST.

MDA is made up of several workers on local, state, and a national level. Within a local and state level, there are a variety of workers who each have their duties when planning the telethon. In a standard MDA office, there is (I forget official titles) a Director a Vice Director, a Patient Coordinator and a secretary. Many volunteers also work in the office. Additionally, there are district directors that oversee the operation of individual MDA offices. For example, the Head Honcho who oversaw the MDA in Toledo, when I was a volunteer was from Detroit. National also has its own setup with even more workers and volunteers.

The main director of an individual MDA office is responsible for working with the television station where the telethon is held. The Vice Director (I know that’s not what the position is called but I always saw them as President & Vice President -as a kid) is often responsible for planning events throughout the year and picking up the slack when the Director is busy. Patient Coordinators plan camp and run the weekly MDA clinic. Both positions and the secretary devote their weekend to the telethon. I’ve seen these three positions do everything from greet those who have raised money for MDA as they arrive at the television studio, crunch numbers as they come in from called in donations, and work as a go between for the main director and the television station.

Additionally, hundreds of volunteers are answering phones, working in the mail room to ship out donation forms so those who donate money can pay (my grandfather was a mailman who retired in the 70s and he and his mailman friends worked in the mail room along with my dad for multiple years), crunching numbers in the accounting room (my dad was an accountant for the state of Ohio so he also did this), and my family was mainly responsible for the food. I had an active role in helping by calling places to get donations and writing letters to remind food places about their donations. The food donations feed the television hosts and the volunteers who work tirelessly.

This food also feeds the green room guests who are those people appearing on the telethon for interviews or to present checks. As poster child, it was my job to schmooze with these people when I wasn’t on camera. I was a popular one in my home town so I often helped host the telethon and was called upon when the telethon needed more money to plea with those in my area to donate. Donate so I can live a long life or donate so I don’t die was always recommended.

The food gathering starts as far back as March or April. You call up restaurants and stores in the area, asking for donations. You set up times to pick up the food, the amount of the donation and then you have to send letters reminding the people in charge of these restaurants/stores of the pickup time, the amount of the donation and all the basics. Then, the day before the telethon, we’d drive around picking up the soda machines, bottled pop and water donations, and non-perishables like potato chips.

On the day of the telethon, runners run around town picking up the food the entire weekend. The food has to be delivered fresh so this is an all weekend process. Over the course of the years my family handled the food, my brother, my brother’s friends, my dad, my grandfather, and friends of my family served as runners. Then the food is delivered to the basement, for volunteers, the green room, and to the television host meeting room. Some of the hosts have special requests for what they want so you have to make sure you get those donations. The poster child/goodwill ambassador and the television hosts also go for fittings at local stores that donate the outfits they wear on the days of the telethon. Those donations are given by those wishing to help MDA.

An excessive amount of work goes into making the telethon run smoothly and the television host is responsible for just that…hosting. I’d be very surprised if Jerry does ANY of the planning for the telethon, as Mr. Davis says. Since Las Vegas has an MDA office, it’d be their job to set things up for the telethon, not Jerry. He is just told who is going to be on the telethon and his job is to announce them. His job is also to take money from those who give him checks. I have NEVER heard Jerry say once that he’s donated a cent of his own money to MDA. Never. I wonder why that is.

Furthermore, the money on that toteboard is NOT raised by Jerry. The vast majority of it is from events held year round around the nation. Various organizations have competitions year round (i.e. Harley Davidson and the Firefighters) and the group that raises the most money for the organization is the one who gets to go on the telethon and share a check in the amount that was actually raised. That check is for events that happened earlier in the year. The second way money is raised is by monetary donations that come during the actual telethon. Jerry not only uses the money Las Vegas makes, but to make the number larger, he adds in the amount that telethons across the nation make. The local telethons call in to give national figures for how much they make and Jerry adds that to the big toteboard.

I’ve said it once, JERRY LEWIS is only a figurehead. He’s the spokesperson, who runs the telethon. He doesn’t have anything to do with planning it. It is a DISSERVICE on the part of Mr. Davis to forget all the volunteers who work their rears off to make the telethon run or who run events that actually raise money for the cause. Those who donate made MDA $800 million NOT Jerry. It is disgusting that the Academy dismisses all of us with Muscular Dystrophy as “kids” – many of us ARE adults. They dismiss Jerry Lewis calling us half-persons and cripples by saying that “[Lewis] has sometimes allowed himself to make public statements that would have benefitted from having been thought through more carefully beforehand.”

It’s okay for him to call a woman a LIVING WATERBED because he probably didn’t mean it? Jerry has NEVER apologized for all of the crap he has said about those of us with Muscular Dystrophy and the Academy of Motion Pictures doesn’t care. As a consumer, I no longer wish to support the Academy and hope they understand that I’m not the only one.

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