You have to give Donald Trump credit. One thing that he is undeniably successful at – and let’s hope this success doesn’t stretch to the presidential election – is his ability to offend pretty much everyone. The list continues to grow – women, Mexicans, veterans, Iowans, disabled people and many more – and this month was a particularly fruitful one for idiotic Trumpisms. In just one week, the Republican forerunner failed to rule out increased surveillance in mosques, warrantless searches, as well as special ID programmes for and databases of Muslims in the US. He also touted the benefits of waterboarding, stating “…and if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they do to us”. To end on a high, Trump proceeded to mock disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski during a rally in South Carolina:
Kovaleski, an investigative reporter on the Culture Desk at The New York Times, has anthrogyposis – a congenital joint condition that locks joints and impacts the movement of his arms. It didn’t take long for the New York Times to hit back at Trump, stating: “We think it’s outrageous that he would ridicule the appearance of one of our reporters.”
Of course, Trump’s impression is exactly that: “outrageous”. So is the fact that he is now pretending not to remember Kovaleski and accusing the reporter of “using his disability to grandstand”. Sure. There are plenty of witnesses and articles out there stating otherwise. Blatant lying aside, what hit a nerve with me is the fact a grown adult who is currently (and very unfortunately) a key player on the political stage mocked a disabled person with an impression that a school bully would be proud of. Yes this is the stuff of playground torment and you’d hope such behaviour would be left behind – along with Tamagotchis, Pogs, and those alien birth pod things. Yet, here we have a presidential candidate who feels such an impression is acceptable – as do his laughing supporters – and there are many adults out there who feel the same. At the beginning of last year, UKIP’s Godfrey Bloom interrupted disabled student David Browne at the Oxford Union with: ‘Are you Richard III?’ Oh, the hilarity.
I’ve got a particularly low tolerance for such comments as I have mild cerebral palsy – an umbrella term for neurological conditions that affect muscle co-ordination and movement. Although I’m incredibly lucky to have full use of my limbs, I spent years concocting ways to avoid taking part in school sports days and PE classes. I’d try and ensure I was always last to walk into a classroom and – later on in life meeting rooms – to avoid people asking if I was limping or if I’d injured myself. I know from experience how cutting impressions can be and how self-conscious people’s stares can make you. Before a client meeting when I worked at an agency, the client offered to heal my cerebral palsy in one of their church prayer meetings.
It’s taken until now (I’m in my thirties) to just not care. After regularly taking part in 5K Park Runs, I progressed to 10ks and I’m now preparing for a half marathon. I may not be the fastest or most elegant of runners, but I can run so why shouldn’t I? No one – child or adult – should be called out and made to feel different because of a disability. A survey of 2,000 British adults last year revealed that two thirds of people feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people. This awkwardness, along with offensive and incorrect stereotypes will continue to exist, if we let people like Trump perpetuate negative views of disability.
Main image: YouTube