Letter: Aaron Starr

From: Aaron Starr


I don’t like television due to the countless commercials I must endure in order to enjoy a program. But there are occasionally ads that are well-crafted, enjoyable to watch and do well at triggering an emotional response.

The Foundation for a Better Life claims to “communicate values that make a difference in our communities,” according to its website. One may be familiar with its TV spots on patience: a young child walking through wet concrete up to the tired worker who gives him a smile instead of admonition.

There have been similar ads that focused on kindness, paying it forward and many other desirable values. One ad in particular made me smile at first, but then cringe when the full implication of the message set in.

This past summer, the Special Olympics took place. This event is a great forum for individuals with intellectual disabilities to compete in Olympic-style sports. The Foundation for a Better Life used that familiar institution to promote teamwork.

The scene was a running event at the Special Olympics. The contestants lined up and started to race toward the finish line, with their guardians and parents cheering them on in the stands. One must first note that all the contestants obviously had Down syndrome, a stereotype about Special Olympic events in itself.

Suddenly, a contestant fell down. The other contestants, noticing the fallen comrade, rushed to his aid, and they all finished the race together. How heartwarming. How touching. How extremely stereotypical, demeaning and dehumanizing of a message to send.

I understand Foundation for a Better Life probably thought that using individuals with Down syndrome as poster children for unselfish acts would be a great idea. I think it must have never worked with this population.

The mission of anyone who works with individuals with intellectual disabilities is to remove barriers that prevent them from being accepted within their own communities. Part of that mission is to ensure that people within their community understand that these individuals are indeed that, individuals. They have differing personalities, dreams, senses of humor, passions, hobbies, interests, etc.

Working with this population makes one aware that, as with any other group of athletes competing, there would undoubtedly be those who do not care if a runner has fallen; they want to win. Individuals with Down syndrome are as competitive as anyone else.

Taking that common human trait away from them wholesale infers that they have no individual personality, that all people with Down syndrome are carbon copies of each other. That assumption destroys the work of countless, less well-funded agencies that seek to help us understand that we are all equal, important and different members of the human race.

I think I will stick with Netflix from now on.