Reinventing the wheelchair by being PC

Unfortunately, no, this is not a belated April Fool’s joke.

Janeal Lee, a 30-year-old Wisconsin native who suffers from multiple sclerosis, was stripped of her “Miss Wheelchair Wisconsin” title for standing up. After a picture published in Lee’s local newspaper featured her standing (while teaching algebra) was discovered, pageant officials disqualified Lee from the contest she had won in January.

I really am not making this up. The rules for the contest stipulate that contestants must “mostly be seen in public using their wheelchairs or scooters,” and Lee’s apparent super-handicap ability to walk small distances while she’s teaching her middle school class is considered an egregious failure to follow the rules. Kind of makes you wonder if handicaps are only considered a criterion for contestants, and not, say, officials.

Also kind of makes you wonder why we keep doing this to ourselves. Our decision to broadly impose a standard of “political correctness” has us doing foolish things like calling white people “Caucasian” (should we really adapt its counterpart terms, “Negroid” and “Mongoloid,” as politically correct too?). It has us question the morality of halftime shows and promos during televised sporting events while we slow down to look at car accidents and watch replays of the tsunami. And, it appears, it has us OD’ing over our politically correct terms so much, that we’re beginning to stray away from the very point of political correctness in the first place.

That would be to put people at ease around one another. But how, exactly are we accomplishing this when we start to alienate the very people we are trying to comfort?

Multiple sclerosis is a slow road toward immobility, so pageant officials should encourage Lee to take advantage of her ability while she still can, not ask her to check back with them once she can’t. That she can walk-if only briefly-is a miracle, not a steroid.

But somehow we overanalyzed-imagine that, from the country that brought you 11 different 24-hour news channels-and forgot that political correctness is about not offending people of different disabilities.

Of course, what do you expect from a bunch of subjective judges? They probably could’ve done a better job if they were blind.

Ben Minkus can be contacted at b.minkus@umiami.edu.

April 5, 2005


The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami

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