Protest the Oscars Because of Jerry Lewis

With all my heart, I’m asking you to do one thing. Don’t watch the Oscars this weekend. If you’re dying to find out the winners, I’m sure they’ll be announced on Twitter or somewhere else online right after each award is given out. This year, the Academy has gone too far. They are giving a Humanitarian Award to one of the LEAST deserving individuals on the planet.

Jerry Lewis is NOT a humanitarian. Have no doubt, he has supported the MDA as their spokesperson for the last 56 years for his own gain. He does get money from the money you donate. MDA pays for all his travel expenses, and it’s unclear what else they pay for, for him. Perhaps he receives chunks of the missing millions that MDA has marked as other funds in their publicly released, yearly funding reports?! It isn’t exactly clear where these funds go, but it wouldn’t be surprising if some went to Lewis.

MDA has also provided a way for Lewis to stay in the spotlight despite a dying acting career. He may have started out caring about the cause but his actions and comments dating back some 20 years show his true feelings towards those with Muscular Dystrophy. Jerry Lewis doesn’t truly care. To him we are just cripples and half-people who are supposed to be pitied. Those are his words…not mine.

I may be a wheelchair user, but my wheelchair does NOT define me. I’m proud of my wheelchair. I’m grateful for it. Do you know why? I am grateful for it because it helps me get around. It gives me independence. I see it as a device to help me be more independent. It works as my legs.

Imagine if someone were to define you by a body part, such as your legs. It wouldn’t be very nice, would it? In fact some people might not even think their legs are a good feature, and therefore would be embarrassed by the definition when they have so many better features and so many more redeemable qualities.

When I list the qualities I have lots of other qualities that define me better than my inability to walk. Some people claim I’m funny. I think I’m honest, caring, devoted, helpful, creative, hardworking, dedicated, inspired and several other things. I don’t think…gosh I’m in a wheelchair. If I list that in a profile it’s because I want people to know I blog about being disabled because I want wheelchair users to stop being defined by our chairs and start being defined by what we have to offer.

Jerry Lewis does not believe those of us who use wheelchairs have anything to offer. At the 1992 telethon he had this to say about those of us with Muscular Dystrophy, particularly those of us who are ADULTS with MD:

My kids cannot go into the workplace. There’s nothing they can do.”

I’m surprised by this because I know many people with MD who have good jobs. I know those with MD who have attended and graduated college. I, myself, attended college. I have at least two friends with MD who have high paying jobs in the computer/IT field. One of them just adopted a baby with his wife and they live in a decent sized house in a good neighborhood. I had another friend who finished a degree in engineering at the same university that I attended. He had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and was more book smart than any of the other friends I had, wheelchair users or not.

Even Jerry’s former golden boy, Mikey Neufeldt, has a good job working for Harley Davidson, and he serves on the MDA National Task Force. Back when I was a child, Mikey was the national poster child (before they called them Junior Goodwill Ambassadors) for MDA. He was the national face of MDA and he’s accomplished a lot in his lifetime despite having MD. So, I don’t understand how Jerry can get away with saying these things. Of course, that’s not all he’s said. Once…Jerry wrote his opinion on what it’d be like to have Muscular Dystrophy.

“I decided after 41 years of battling this curse that attacks children of all ages, I would put myself in that chair, that steel imprisonment that long has been deemed the dystrophic child’s plight. I know the courage it takes to get on the court with other cripples and play wheelchair basketball, but I’m not as fortunate as they are. I’d like to play basketball like normal, healthy, vital and energetic people. I really don’t want the substitute. I just can’t half-do anything. When I sit back and think a little more rationally I realize my life is half, so I must learn to do things halfway. I just have to learn to try to be good at being half a person.”

I am not a half person. I am a WHOLE person. I am complex. I love. I feel. I hurt. I bleed. I cry. I eat. I sleep. I dream. Just because I don’t walk doesn’t mean I’m not whole. This entire excerpt, which was written I believe in 1992 (or 91? 90?) in Parade magazine is disgusting. Cripples is a word I dislike, especially when nondisabled people use it toward us. It’s the most negative thing you can call a wheelchair user, next to calling them a half person or the R word.

The definition for crippled in the dictionary is “something flawed or imperfect.” That could describe EVERY person on the planet, but to use it to describe someone on the basis of disability is disrespectful. My opinion on my own usage of the term has evolved, but you’d think the spokesperson of a national disability organization would have more tact by avoiding using it. Unfortunately, cripple seems to be one of Jerry’s favorite words, next to “fag”, which he has used to describe homosexuals not only on Australian television, but on the MDA telethon last year, when he called the son of one of his cameramen an “illiterate fag.”

Here is another example of him calling those of us with MD cripples. This time he did it on CBS Morning News:

“I’m telling people about a child in trouble! If it’s pity, we’ll get some money. I’m just giving you facts! Pity? [If] you don’t want to be pitied because you’re a cripple in a wheelchair, stay in ya house!”

Why should I stay in my house? I don’t want to be pitied nor do I want to be trapped in my house with no place to go and nothing to do. I want to be seen for what I have to offer, not what I’m not capable of doing with my legs and arms. Does anyone want to be seen for their flaws? As someone with feelings and emotions, I surely don’t.

You can check out the following websites to check out and actually here some of Jerry Lewis’ insensitive comments, IN HIS OWN WORDS!

Here is an online petition you should sign protesting the Academy Award’s and the Humanitarian Award Jerry Lewis is receiving:

Of course, there is also his Vanity Fair article, written in 1993, when he was talking about those of us who don’t like his pity-mongering ways. Those of us wheelchair users who protest his actions for MDA and during the telethon, including a group calling themselves Jerry’s Orphans:

“These people are leeches. They all glommed on to being Jerry-bashers. What did they have before that? They’re disabled people who are so bitter at the bad hand they’ve been dealt that they have to take down somebody who’s doing good. … There’s a million and a half people who depend on what I do!? “I’ve raised one billion three hundred million dollars. …. They want me to stop now? Fuck them. Do it in caps. FUCK THEM.”??

Jerry didn’t raise anything. That’s not HIS money. What about every person on the telethon, all the volunteers around the world who work their asses off for the MDA every day of the year? These are the people I met and worked with when I raised money for MDA. These are the true heroes of the organization, who don’t get paid a cent for their voluntary efforts.

All Jerry is is the figurehead, who accepts the checks that these volunteers raise throughout the year. That’s the number that’s tallied on his tote board and he doesn’t raise a cent of it. I bet MDA would make more money with George Clooney as their spokesperson and I believe he would have the common sense not to call those of us with MD cripples.

Now, I have a long history with MDA. I once supported the organization fully. I spent years raising thousands of dollars for them. I was the Junior Goodwill Ambassador for Northwest Ohio in 1990 & 1991. I was the State of Ohio Junior Goodwill Ambassador in 1992 and 1993. I spent many hours driving around the state to go to MDA events. I went door to door asking for donations. I raised money through my family, sang on the radio for MDA, sang on the Toledo Telethon, appeared on telethons in Columbus, Toledo and Cleveland (twice I was on all three in the same year – which meant no sleep and continuous driving around the state in two days). I attended thousands of events. Then, I became an adult.

The older you are, the less MDA seems to care. I don’t go to the clinic anymore. I see specialists for things I need like respiratory issues and an orthopedic specialist. If I do need something from MDA they never return my phone calls. None of my specialists are associated with MDA. I get my medication from these doctors or my general practitioner.

I am no longer allowed to attend MDA Camp. Originally, all people with MD could attend. It was great having adults around camp, when I was a kid, because they were people I could confide in, learn from and helped me to realize I had a future. The kids of today with MD don’t have that. First, MDA cut the age down to 21 and younger in the 90s, and now it is 17 and under, starting in 2009. More and more, MDA is making cuts, because adults with MD aren’t as profitable. We can’t invoke as much pity, and as Jerry Lewis says, that is what it is all about.

I’ve had friends with MD, who have raised a lot of money, served as Goodwill Ambassadors, and served MDA in other ways, be told not to come back to the telethon. MDA is taking a new direction and these individuals have been told they are too old to attend the telethon and/or MDA events. Before, anyone with MD was welcome and now, there is an age limit. Services for adults are slowly being cut from the budget and even Jerry Lewis refuses to acknowledge the adults with MD. If he does we are “Jerry Kids” and he means it in the most condescending of ways.

After MDA cut me out, after all my years of service, after I learned the truth about MDA, and after I learned the truth about Jerry Lewis I felt like a fool. I had been played and used by MDA. I was pimped out by the MDA as one of their child pity prostitutes. MDA was paid because people pitied me as a kid, not because of all of my positive traits or all I would eventually accomplish. I was an especially cute kid, too, so I was worth more money. I feel like such a fool now, because of the way MDA used me, and for supporting an organization that allowed Jerry Lewis to continue its antiquated, hate mongering, pity inducing ways.

The money MDA raises isn’t going to all the places it is supposed to go. MDA makes millions of dollars, and at least $372,662 of that goes to the CEO of MDA. In the last five years, that amount has been as high as $399,000. He makes almost as much as the president of the United States, only because Bush raised the payment of the president to $400,000. Not too long ago the president only made $250,000, and the CEO of MDA was already making more than that.

MDA claimed close to $200 million dollars in profits in 2008. It has been reported on various sites that some money is unaccounted for, and between $15-$30 million of that goes to research. There should be much more of those funds going to research, because that’s really all MDA seems to offer anymore, excluding camp, and clinic.

The MDA clinic now bills a person’s insurance, rather than paying for clinic visits like they used to when I was a kid. The fee for this service is exorbitant and is part of why I no longer go to the clinic. I can pay less to one of my specialists, and they won’t bring an entire room full of people in to show them how my tongue wiggles because I have tongue fascillations, treating me like a lab rat in the process.

At least $4 million goes to something called Other Expenses, but on their Tax Exempt forms, MDA doesn’t say what that is for, and over 15% of what they made last year went to Administrative costs, so this is where your money is going. Once upon a time, MDA once bought us wheelchairs, walkers, and other equipment we needed. Now, that’s limited to $5000 every ten or so years. That’s only 1/4 of the cost of my wheelchair. The CEO’s salary alone could buy around 15, high quality, high tech wheelchairs. That would be money well spent.

My argument here isn’t with the MDA though. It’s with the MDA’s spokesperson, who uses pity to get money for services MDA isn’t paying for like they claim. The worse Jerry gets, the worse MDA gets, and those of us with MD are the ones who are affected the most.

I once loved the MDA, but now I have no respect for the organization, and as long as they continue to allow the hateful, bigoted, Jerry Lewis to represent their organization as they continue to cut the services those of us with MD need, I will continue to speak out about this issue. So, please if you’ve read this, don’t support a man who is no humanitarian. Don’t support a man who has only looked out for himself and his own career. Look out for those of us with Muscular Dystrophy by not supporting the Oscars or Jerry Lewis.

12 responses to “Protest the Oscars Because of Jerry Lewis”

  1. After Bush raised it, but it was $250,000 before that and I believe Obama plans to lower it back to around there. My point is for a NON-PROFIT organization’s CEO to make close to $400,000 is absolutely RIDICULOUS!

  2. Jerry Lewis does not deserve the humanitarian award. It’s not just the derogatory comments he continues to make. It’s that all his work for the MDA — the Labor Day telethons and so forth — do far more harm to than good for people with disabilities.

    The will MDA is not saving kids’ lives. In fact, I’m not sure the charity itself isn’t corrupt.

    Which is why disability-rights activists from across the country are converging on Hollywood to protest this award. We have more than 2000 signatures on a petition, but the Academy doesn’t care.

    What I do know is that Lewis exploits kids with disabilities (including me, 40 years ago) to use pity as a strategy for fund-raising, which sets the cause of disability rights back a generation or two. “Help Jerry’s kids” is insulting. More important, it’s dangerous for our social status and self-esteem. No, it’s not easy being a person with a disability in an able-bodied world. But we certainly don’t need Jerry’s raising pity, or Jerry’s bucks for medical charity, making matters worse.

    Would you hire one of Jerry’s kids for a job? Would you want your son/daughter or brother/sister to marry one of Jerry’s kids? Clearly, the whole idea does not further equality or full integration of the disabled. It marginalizes us.

    For two decades Lewis and the MDA have refused to work things out with us. We have tried. Instead, Lewis threatens us with nothing short of assassination. The organization does not join the fight for disability-rights legislation, does not employ people with disabilities in any meaningful way, and does not hold its corporate sponsors to any kind of standard of fairness. Neither the MDA nor Jerry Lewis fit the definition of humanitarian.

    I would be happy to discuss this with anyone interested. For more information, go to

  3. Are you really this stupid. Jerry Lewis is a wonderful humanitarian. People like you just like to crap on all that is good because you have no life of your own.

    • Explain to me what he has done that makes him a humanitarian. How would you feel if someone called you “half a human” due to your inabilities? Do you think a humanitarian would say that? How about stay in your house if you don’t want pity? How about him saying all of his “Jerry’s kids” are unsuccessful and incapable of working in the workplace? He basically said people with MD are incapable of having jobs, which is grossly inaccurate. This man is prejudice against the people he claims to be helping. Insulting me because you don’t like what I have to say is no way to earn points in a debate.

      It’s those of us who have disabilities who have to teach those that are able-bodied that these kinds of comments that Jerry Lewis has made are not only unacceptable, they are also hurtful to the entire disability rights movement, which is trying to get equitable and fair treatment for all with disabilities — something Jerry Lewis doesn’t believe we deserve.

    • You say that Dominick has no life of his own. I find that hilarious because without people with Muscular Dystrophy (like Dominick) Jerry Lewis’ career would have been dead long ago. A humanitarian gives their own money to the cause not demands others give it. A humanitarian helps people, they don’t talk down to them. The humanitarian takes charge of the situation making sure those who need help get it. Giving someone help while taking away their dignity isn’t a fair trade, and saying you’ll help and still taking away their dignity, but not giving help at all is even worse.

      I’m having a really hard time (as an able-bodied individual) understanding this debate. Let’s forget the Humanitarian thing. Jerry Lewis is not a nice guy period. He’s an embarrassment. He forged his career pretending to be mentally challenged (and we call this humor?). How he became the figurehead for any non-profit organization is beyond me.

      There is a line between being funny and being malicious. What he has said to people with Physical Disabilities can only be categorized as malicious. He is hateful to all these different groups of people. He says bigoted things against women, GLBT people, and worst of all, the physically disabled people he claims to help.

      My mom always taught me not to bite the hand that feeds. Jerry is getting a 50 course meal off the MDA and those with Muscular Dystrophy. It’s bad enough all of his travel expenses are paid by the organization. That is ludicrous. He does one gig for MDA per year as the telethon host and they pay for him to travel here and there. I wonder how many wheelchairs they could buy with that amount of money.

      I don’t know why you think Dominick and other people with Muscular Dystrophy should be obligated to like Jerry Lewis. I don’t think taking advantage of children (which is what Jerry does – to raise money for MDA) makes you a good human being. Almost all of the protesters have been there. They’ve served MDA as those children and they’ve seen the ugly side of the organization first hand. Yet they are the ones getting attacked for telling the truth??

      At the end of the day, we all have to wonder why the MDA would want someone like Jerry acting as their spokesperson. It just goes to show that the MDA is outdated, out of touch and really has little regard for the people they claim to want to help.

  4. I am an “able bodied” person, and I have to say that your comments are eye opening. I never really thought about all of that stuff, but after reading your comments I am almost ashamed to think that I was one of those people that thought Jerry Lewis was a good guy. I never really watched the telethon, but I obviously knew about it, but to hear all of this and how bad the MDA is run now, it is just sad. I did not see him get his award last night, so I can’t comment on what they said about him, or what he said.Thanks for educating me on this and keep up the good work.

  5. Hello Dominick,
    My two nephews who live in Phoenix have Duchenne MD. Tyler, who is turning 18 this month (3/18) is really going downhill. My mother, who lives in Phoenix, is outraged that the MDA hasn’t done jack since Jerry Lewis and the telethon began, esp. after adding 40 other diseases. My uncle said he gets paid for his time/travel. After seeing this we are appalled and I feel so very bad for my nephew Tyler. It’s not pity, it’s heartfelt love for someone I love & not being able to do anything. We are thinking of writing the MDA & Jerry – prob. won’t go anywhere, but I would like to keep in touch with you and I will keep you posted on what we do. Take care and thanks for the wonderful but sad article. You are awesome:-)

  6. to be honest, you really do seem bitter. I don’t know Jerry Lewis, but I don know that if his involvement with MDA has helped even one (1) person, then he has done something good. you should think about the positives that he may have contributed to people with MD, and i’m sure there are far more people that have been helped by his involvement than have been hurt by it….

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