As you can see from my wife Connie's post below Scott MacIntyre is currently a contestant on American Idol. Connie's post covers the basics: Scott MacIntyre is a professional musician with a solid following "out there" in the world of music loving people and heck he just happens to be visually impaired owing to a rare genetic form of vision loss that our friend Dr. Ed Stone is working to cure right here at the University of Iowa. As a music lover and as an advocate for people with disabilities I always poke my ears up when I hear that there's some very exciting new talent in the world and I get even more excited when I learn that the "talent" also happens to have some kind of a disability. This isn't because I think that pwds are heroic or that they're part of some kind of "overcoming" narrative but simply because I think that physical challenges are invariably incorporated into art–that is, I believe that disability is a deep and abiding form of emotional and imaginative intelligence for human beings. That this is hugely fascinating for me and for people who are interested in what is coming to be called "neuro-diversity" makes lots of sense.
So I was thrilled to hear of Mr. MacIntyre's current role on American Idol and even more fascinated to learn of his multiple accomplishments. He's a classically trained musician; a former Fulbright Scholar; he graduated from college at an age when most teens are still in high school. The man has lots of horsepower under his hood.
Connie's post points out that there's a sour comment on a blog having to do with American Idol that trots out the usual hoary bromide that should Mr. MacIntyre win the whole shebang on American Idol this will no doubt have to do with "the sympathy vote". In her post Connie wonders what I might have to say about the matter.
First I should point out that the remark is essentially "ableism" and its no different from the casual racism that opines that so and so just got her or his job because of affirmative action. We've all heard that stuff over and over again. The late North Carolina Senator, Jesse Helms used that affirmative action gambit to get himself re-elected –his commercials would intone that "you needed that job but it went to affirmative action" etc. etc.
As it becomes harder to overtly dismiss people in strikingly racist ways I think its fair to say that bigots turn their gazes to people with disabilities. After all: someone somewhere must be getting something they don't deserve and which should be going to (insert your own group of privileged malcontents here).
Obviously if a person who has a disability also happens to have skills and talents then it surely must be the case that he or she gets the (insert item here, job, bonus, game show victory, parking space, etc.) only because there's a "sympathy vote".
What's funny about this is that only bigots believe this. If you ask a person with a disability or a member of their family or one of their friends if pwds receive unthinking and compensatory advantages in their lives they will laugh and laugh and likely fall over.
70 per cent of pwds are unemployed despite their levels of education and their evident individual talents. No sympathy vote seems to be apparent in the employment sector.
One quarter of people with disabilities graduate successfully from colleges and universities. That obviously means that three quarters don't make it through. Clearly there's an overwhelming sympathy factor working in our education system, eh?
I just have to laugh. Look on TV for successful images of pwds. You will find very few. NO sympathy vote there either.
Turns out that the sympathy vote exists only in the minds of bigots who have turned to ableism to keep their bigotry credentials active. One suspects that there's a "Bigotry General" who monitors how active the bigots are. She or he must be keeping score.