the kids are all right

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THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT is a half-hour documentary about a renegade Jerry's Kid named Mike Ervin. A Muscular Dystrophy Association poster child in the 1960s, today Mike is an outspoken disability rights activist who challenges the MDA 's representation of people with disabilities in its Labor Day telethon through his activist group, Jerry's Orphans.


Charities have used poster children to raise money since the 1930s because it works. When people see a child with leg braces and crutches, they feel sorry and drop a coin in the jar or call in the pledge. But once the fundraising drive is over, that image of the poor little poster child lingers. The general public absorbs the idea that people with muscular dystrophy, or polio--really all people with disabilities--are pitiable victims who want and need nothing more than a big charity to take care of them. Or, better, to cure them. Mike calls this the charity mentality.

While the Jerry Lewis telethon may seem like a quaint relic to younger viewers, the reality is that both the charity mentality and the MDA's use of the "pity approach" to raise money seriously undermine the disability civil rights movement. The telethon routinely implies that the source of the problems people with disabilities face is their medical conditions and the answer to their problems is curing them. Millions of viewers tune in every year and come away with the idea that people with disabilities need pity and charity rather than accessible public transportation and housing, employment opportunities and other civil rights that a democratic society should ensure for all its citizens.

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT documents the history of Jerry's Orphans and three consecutive years of their local Chicago Telethon protests. The film contrasts outdated attitudes with a view into the real lives of people with disabilities today. The goal of THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT is to raise consciousness about the subtle effects of pity, to empower people with disabilities to advocate for their own rights, and to inspire activism.


Mike Ervin

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