Mocking PWDs is not cool

"Treat everyone as you would like to be treated."


In this day of social media, followers, and likes, it’s cool to go viral, but not for the wrong reasons, as a group of young people discovered to their dismay.

A video was posted recently of ‘Zar’ in a wheelchair, making grimaces and uttering guttural sounds, obviously making fun of a person with a speech or cognitive disability. A girl was pushing him, another was walking close beside them taking video. There were a couple of other people also filming. All were laughing at Zar’s antics.

Many netizens, some of them non-Filipinos, were indignant, and rightfully so. @MokaToot empathized in her tweet: “Never pa ako nakakaencounter ng taong may ganitong disability pero I know kung gaano kahirap yung pinagdaanan nung pwd at parents nun. Mocking them isn't a way to make people laugh.”

Others pointed to Zar’s companions as equally culpable. “Don’t forget to cancel his friends too,” said @TaeWill20. “They just as guilty for taking part and laughing.”

Zar and his friends might not have expected the number of negative comments they received, but what’s worse is that they were doxxed and apparently messages were sent to their places of work, urging that they be fired. Messages were sent to Zar’s parents as well, along the lines of ‘we know you didn’t raise him to be that way.’

As a consequence of Zar and friends’ behavior, the internet response was harsh. But that is how the internet calls out and shames violators of social norms.

This isn’t the only recent case of netizens poking fun at the disabled. The other day a PWD’s graduation photo was being jeered at online. Disparaging and hurtful comments were made about his appearance.

This person graduated from a public university in Mindanao with a degree in secondary education major in Mathematics and is probably smarter than many of his detractors, who wouldn’t know what a quadratic equation was if it bit them in the leg.

The right of PWDs to live free of hurtful derision is protected by Republic Act No. 9442 (amending RA 7277, the Magna Carta of Disabled Persons). It provides against public ridicule, which it defines as “an act of making fun or contemptuous imitating or making mockery of persons with disability whether in writing, or in words, or in action due to their impairment/s.”

Apart from the law’s stiff penalties, there is a price to pay for being cruel. Not too long ago, former Communication Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson laughed at and filmed Drew Olivar mocking sign language. The Philippine Federation of the Deaf filed a complaint before the Ombudsman. This incident was among those that led to Uson’s downfall.

As of the 2010 census, there are over 1.44 million Filipinos living with disabilities. I suspect this figure is on the low end—it’s sure to be higher now. This does not include the people who are living with cancer or survivors of cancer who will register as PWDs under the new Cancer Control Act.

Disability can happen to anyone at any time, and some forms may be invisible or difficult to see. Given this, there needs to be more public discourse about disability communication, in the sense of talking or writing about people with disabilities.

As in all interactions with people, there must be respect and courtesy. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that ‘people first language’ be used “to speak appropriately and respectfully about an individual with disability.” It emphasizes the person first, not their disability.

So instead of saying ‘the handicapped,’ say ‘person with a disability.’ Instead of using the words crippled, lame, deformed, invalid, just say, ‘person with a physical disability.’ ‘Person of short stature,” not ‘midget.’ ‘Person with epilepsy or seizure disorder,’ not ‘epileptic.’

And definitely do not film yourself in a wheelchair pretending to have spasms and speaking difficulties as your mates laugh.

It seems there is more hate than compassion in our society now. Empathy and kindness are in short supply with the rise of ‘bastusan’ culture and communication, whitewashed as ‘nagpapakatotoo lang’ or ‘nagpapatawa lang.’

To grow in a positive direction as a society we need to rethink the way we communicate about PWDs. Each of us is struggling in different ways, some physical, others mental. It’s all part of the human condition.

Instead of demeaning, uplift. Instead of mocking, praise. Instead of schadenfreude, make it compassion and mudita, sympathetic or unselfish joy.  

Practice the Golden Rule. Treat everyone as you would like to be treated. / FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

Topics: Jenny Ortuoste , PWDs , social media , Republic Act No. 9442
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