During the Superbowl, Microsoft aired an ad in which they told the story of how their technology has been used to help a boy named Braylon who was born without the use of his legs. Throughout the commercial, we see young Braylon walking, running, playing baseball, and taking part in all kinds of activities which he would not have been able to if it weren’t for his prosthetic legs and the Microsoft technology used to create and adjust them them as he grows. I’m sure that, like most people, I saw a commercial that was meant to encourage and inspire both kids and adults like Braylon (and, of course, generate some positive PR for Microsoft). It was a good ad with a good message, and I was inspired by Braylon and his story.
Evidently, some were not so impressed with the commercial.
Enter Sarah Garrect Gassen, a columnist at the Arizona Daily Star. Gassen wrote an article in which she criticized Microsoft for the ad, particularly the part near the end when a voice talks about showing “courage in the face of reality.” She asserts that Microsoft is pushing an “us vs. them” narrative, in which people like Braylon are “them” and everyone else comprises “us”. Gassen also mentions that she herself has used a prosthetic leg for the past forty years, and goes on to criticize Microsoft for what she sees as their underlying message that Braylon and others who have disabilities need people like Microsoft to help them be “normal”. I must respectfully disagree with Ms. Gassen on this topic.
First, it is important to disclose that I understand very well what it’s like to have a limb difference, as I was born without my left hand. Despite my own “disability,” I have been able to adapt and do anything I want to do. I play three different instruments, primarily bass guitar, and I was a driver on an endurance go-kart racing team that won several races and even a championship. Oh by the way, I’m writing this very article with one complete hand on my right and what could be considered no fingers except for a small part of a thumb on the left, and I wrote countless papers through college like this.
I would like to know what Ms. Gassen thinks of Shriners Hospitals for Children, where they specialize in caring for orthopedic conditions, burns, and spinal cord injuries, along with cleft lip and palate. Are we to believe that Shriners Hospitals are part of this condescension towards disabled people? Are they or charitable organizations who do similar work subliminally telling the very children who they treat that they are the “them” to everyone else’s “us”? After all, Shriners, et al. only exist for the sole purpose of “making kids better” and helping “kids be kids”. Is Shriners implying that their patients are inferior to “normal” people by saying that they’re working to “make kids better”? Of course not.
Ms. Gassen takes exception to Microsoft using the word “courage” in their commercial, “as if courage is needed to make up for a deficit.” To be fair, she also says that “disability is difference, not deficit.” We agree on this point, but differ when it comes to the role of courage. I would argue that it actually does take courage to make up for a difference, deficit, or whichever word you choose. It also takes adaptability, determination, and resourcefulness. I know from personal experience that it sometimes even requires help, which often takes more courage to ask for than to not and go without.
While both Ms. Gassen and I have faced obstacles in life, they have been different. I don’t pretend to know her entire story or the thought process which led her to the conclusion that she reached. Rather, this response is an effort to point out that the notion of political correctness has now gotten to the point where companies or other entities making an effort to help people with disabilities can be accused of not seeing them as “normal,” or are suggesting that they are incapable of helping themselves.
Gassen closes her article by asking “Can’t we just be us?” I would ask whether we as a society can accept some things for what they are, instead of dissecting and over-analyzing every word we hear or read. We have reached a point where offense, false motives, and controversy are seemingly created out of thin air.