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Jerry Lewis -- the celebrity do-gooder that disability rights activists love to hate -- was at it again last night at the Chicago Library. He was talking to a packed house, promoting his new book "Dean and Me - A Love Story" (which is by all accounts an embarrassment, but that's another diary).

Guess it never occurred to him that Chicago is home to Jerry's Orphans. Or maybe he'd forgotten about the group that formed in 1990 in protest of his infamous Sept. 2 Parade magazine article that year, "What If I Had Muscular Dystrophy?" -- the article in which he imagined putting himself in "that chair, that steel imprisonment that long has been deemed the dystrophic child's plight" (he was talking about a wheelchair) and going on to proclaim that if you have a disability, you can be only "half a person"?  

Well, orphans do often get forgotten.

But Jerry's Orphans have not forgotten Jerry.  They were there in the Library, too. Of course people in wheelchairs love Jerry, no? No reason to question them being in the audience.

But then they started hecking the great man.

CBS News in Chicago reports:

Jerry's Orphans accused him of portraying the disabled as people to be pitied. Lewis yelled at them to get out and stormed off the stage.

"When he spotted these activists in the audience that were in the front row in their wheelchairs, he even went so far as to say, 'These people are going to walk out of those chairs and drive home tonight. I bought those chairs for them,' " said witness John Gabrysiak.

Disability rights activists contend Lewis would benefit more people by focusing on issues such as accessible buildings and employment.

Lewis's hallmark, indeed, has been pity. On the May 20, 2001 edition of CBS Sunday Morning, responding to correspondent Martha Teichner's question about the Jerry's Orphan protesters, Lewis spit, "I'm telling people about a child in trouble! If it's pity, we'll get some money. I'm just giving you facts!" Barely pausing, he added, "Pity? [If] you don't want to be pitied because you're a cripple in a wheelchair, stay in ya house!" (Hear Lewis's remarks)

 Later,  Jerry apologized, as did  MDA.  

But the MDA still doesn't get it when it comes to disability rights, say activists. The latest flap is over one of their camps, which won't let disabled people work there as volunteers.

Here are some other things to read about the ongoing fued between disability rights activists and MDA Chair Jerry Lewis: Frequently Asked Questions about the Telethon Protest and A Test of Wills:  Jerry Lewis, Jerry's Orphans, and the Telethon.

Originally posted to mjohnson on Thu Nov 17, 2005 at 06:20 AM PST.

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