By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Thanksgiving message to residents of Connecticut on Wednesday was not appreciated by some members of the disabled community who said they’re offended by the wording, which describes them as “residents afflicted with handicaps” who are “hovering on the edges of our society.”
Raymond DeBlasio of Norwich, who is blind, said he was stunned when he received a copy of the two-page message from an angry friend.
“When I first read it, I thought, `Is he talking about me? Is this me? It doesn’t sound like me,”’ said DeBlasio, who called the wording insulting and said Malloy’s message only reinforces the stereotype that “people with handicaps are helpless, writhing beings that need to be cared for. And that’s not true at all.”
In his Thanksgiving email, the freshman governor reflects on the state’s recent challenges, including the October snowstorm and the remnants of Hurricane Irene, as well as the unemployment rate and how members of the military from Connecticut are serving overseas during the holiday season.
The particular paragraph that offended DeBlasio and others is near the bottom, where it states how “it is bad that some of our fellow residents are afflicted with handicaps that make their lives immeasurably difficult, and leave them hovering on the edges of our society.” It goes on to say that “it is good that we have service providers who work tirelessly and selflessly to care for and comfort them. To bring them hope where maybe they have only felt hopelessness.”
Andrew Doba, Malloy’s director of communications, said the governor didn’t intend for the message to be offensive.
“As someone who was born with a severe learning disability, the governor certainly did not mean to insult anyone,” Doba said. “He is well aware that being disabled does not prevent anyone from living a full and meaningful life. The sentiment he expressed is that we should celebrate both people with disabilities and those that assist them.”
Cathy Ludlum of Manchester, who is disabled and uses a wheelchair, has criticized Malloy for a recent executive order that could lead to personal care attendants having the ability to organize and collectively bargain. She said the tone of the Thanksgiving message attempted to invoke pity, something she said she and other people with disabilities do not want.
“You know what it reminded me of is Dickens? Tiny Tim lives,” she said, referring to Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
“I am alarmed that the governor, who had made such a very good initial impression in the disability community _ speaking of employment and empowerment and doing more with less kind of things _ has written something which I would say is out of character,” she said, adding how news of Malloy’s message was spreading quickly throughout the disability community.
Ludlum, who is one of the leaders of a group seeking to repeal Malloy’s executive order, said she believes the governor “has kind of backed himself into a position where he is the defender of the helpless rather than seeking to empower people with disabilities.”
Michelle Tyler of Tolland, a personal care assistant for the past nine years, said she was disgusted with the paragraph.
“The only reason people with disabilities live on the edges of society is because that’s where people make them live, or that’s where legislators and government put them,” she said. “Quite honestly, the people I have worked for have been in the midst of society because they employ personal assistants, they live independently, they live very active fulfilling lives.”
Tyler said she also was uncomfortable with the message’s line about how caregivers “bring them hope where maybe they have only felt hopelessness.”
“I can’t tell you how much more these people do for me than I do for them. I am only their physical hands and feet,” she said. “I do stuff for them that they can’t do, but they give back so much more to me. They give me hope and courage.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)