An Open Letter to the Dr. Phil Show: People with Disabilities Have a Voice

Dear Dr. Phil,

What the disability community can do:

I am writing on behalf of the millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in our nation and their loved ones that may have seen the April 13, 2012 Dr. Phil episode entitled “Deadly Consequences.” As the nation’s largest organization serving and advocating on behalf of people with I/DD, with a network of over 700 chapters across the country, we’ve received many outraged complaints about the content of this program, and after viewing it, I felt compelled to contact you to voice our concerns.

Frankly, we are appalled by the superficial coverage given to a subject that is, literally, a matter of life or death for Jeffrey, Janet and many other people with severe physical and cognitive disabilities. Your show did a great disservice to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as others who develop severe disabilities throughout their lifetimes as a consequence of traumatic brain injury, trauma experienced in serving our country, and the natural process of aging. Moreover, asking the audience to serve as Dr. Phil’s death panel and vote on whether Jeffrey’s and Janet’s lives are worth living was simply wrong. It is reassuring that the majority of people taking the online poll on your website reject the audience’s conclusion.

Annette Corriveau is entitled to free speech. But so are her son Jeffrey and daughter Janet. While they cannot physically speak for themselves, your program still could have provided for their voice to be heard. It should not be presumed that people who can’t speak are totally unable to communicate. Perhaps you could have interviewed the caregivers who interact with them on a day to day basis and could speak with authority about how Jeffrey and Janet communicate what they are feeling and about their quality of life. Often it is more a matter of our learning how to listen and to interpret the other cues that individuals with severe disabilities are able to provide. Your show focused only on Annette’s opinion, and while she is their mother, she admitted that she sees them only every other month and institutionalized her children many years ago.

You also could have interviewed other people with severe disabilities who, like Jeffrey and Janet, were written off as having no value and no abilities, yet who have succeeded in living in and in participating in their communities. Too often people with severe disabilities are dismissed, yet when given a chance and provided appropriate supports they can rise above the low expectations that others have for them. You might, for example, have interviewed other parents who fought to get their son or daughter out of an institution and have been amazed at how they have succeeded far beyond what anyone expected.

The show would also have been enriched by interviewing some of the many experts that have a deep understanding of individuals like Jeffrey and Janet and extensive experience in supporting people with severe disabilities to live meaningful lives in the community. There are families all across the nation fighting to get their sons and daughters with severe disabilities out of institutions and get them the home and community based services they need. Their perspective, and that of advocates in the disability rights movement, would have added balance to the show. Your viewers need to understand the history of oppression of people with severe disabilities in the country and how far we’ve come. The viewer has no idea of the dark history of the eugenics movement in the United States and globally because you didn’t show it.

The Arc is the largest national charity federation advocating for and serving people with I/DD, including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 700 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

We can serve as a resource for future shows, providing technical assistance and suggesting guests (experts in the I/DD field, self-advocates, professional support staff, and families) to help explain the complex issues facing people with I/DD for the audience who may have no interaction with people with disabilities in their daily lives. The result of your failure to include this perspective left the impression on your millions of viewers that Jeffrey, Janet, and other citizens with disabilities don’t have a voice and rights. They do.

The Dr. Phil show has a responsibility to get it right for your viewers, including people with I/DD. On behalf of people with I/DD and their families, we ask that you plan another show that would demonstrate this history, illustrating how people with severe disabilities who were previously relegated to institutions have defied all expectations.

The timing is right for you to put these issues in the living rooms of Americans, as fifty years ago, President Kennedy made a call to the nation to help bring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities out of the shadows, to give them opportunities to lead productive, quality lives. We are also approaching the 30th anniversary of the state of New York announcing the closure of the nation’s most notorious institution, Willowbrook, which was an overcrowded, filthy, deplorable warehouse for thousands of children for decades and the site of a highly controversial Hepatitis A study starting in the mid-1950s through the 1970s.

The Arc stands ready and willing to assist you in preparing a program that accurately portrays the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, shows the rich history of this movement, and makes the public aware of just how similar people with severe disabilities are to you and me.

I hope you take The Arc up on our offer to be a resource for you so that you can live up to your duty as a journalist and so that people with I/DD have a seat at your table in upcoming episodes.

Peter V. Berns
CEO, The Arc of the United States

What the Disability Community Can Do

If you share the same concern that we do about this episode, send Dr. Phil a message on Twitter and let him know your feelings. Use the hashtag: #VoiceofTheArc

Here’s an example:

@DrPhil Individuals who are non-verbal still have a voice. Give everyone a chance to hear them on a future show. #VoiceofTheArc

14 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Dr. Phil Show: People with Disabilities Have a Voice

  1. Well-said. I was disgusted to hear about this show.
    Thank you for sending this letter. I am curious to see if Dr. Phil will actually do a show about the lives of people with developmental disabilities…

  2. I am amazed that Dr. Phill has not already scheduled a show on behalf of individuals with I/DD. What a shame if we did not have these individuals in society. They teach the rest of us how to be patient, loving and giving and that alone is enough to give to society.

  3. Hitler also believed that such people should not burden us with their lives. Unfortunately human history does not have to be searched very far back to see that we have done terrible things to people with disabilities because we feel uncomfortable with their differences or their needs. We MUST always be the voice for our loved ones. They may not always be heard, or understood or respected. It is not for others to decide the value or purpose of their lives. To the very greatest extent possible we have to let our disabled loved ones be the captain of their own ship and live dignified lives. We are here to protect and guide only. Each individual life is precious.

  4. Sorry, we are Not Puzzle Pieces to be put together. We Autistic People on Planet Earth are People. I do not need to be “pieced” together to See My Big Picture. I Am The Picture, Whole, Stronger than Strong and AUTISTIC FOREVER!

    It is another beautiful Earth Day, and if I have to read yet another Horiffic Story about the UNIVERSAL ABUSE of People on this Planet Earth, I am going to Scream. I am holding back the tears, because it Feels Like it is Not Socially Acceptable, on THIS Planet, to TRULY CARE FOR OTHERS! It seems it is Socially, Morally and Ethically OK to MURDER PEOPLE Who are Different, with Intellectual and Developmental Challenges and Disabilities, Handi-caps and are on the AUTISM SPECTRUM with a Condition of PDD/NOS/Aspergers, Downs, Tourettes, ADD, ADHD and Other Conditions! Corey Foster, a 16 year old Young Autistic Man, Formerly of Yonkers, NY was supposedly “killed” on April 18, 2012 by his CARE-GIVERS at the Leakes & Watts Home in Yonkers, NY. There is a rally today, May 18, 2012! Who Is Going To Be Next? We Must have a MARCH ON WASHINGTON, DC 2012. I will go on the Dr. Phil Show to Speak For US, The Differently-Abled Human Being on Planet Earth!

  5. My brother Paul has Down Syndrome he is married and has a job. He is happy and productive. When my brother was born the doctors told my parents that Paul would not be able to live a productive life and that should put him in an institution, they were wrong.
    “My brother, Paul, has been with Monarch for many years and Arc of Onondaga has given him what all people with or without disabilities need, a job he loves and is happy to go to.”
    Amy and Paul’s father is a carpenter and taught Paul from an early age to work with his
    hands and various tools. Monarch was able to find a job for Paul that utilized his skills
    and suited his capabilities. Paul is married and lives with his wife, Chris, in a home run by the state. Because of his employment with Monarch, he is able to earn the money for
    both him and his wife to enjoy many activities, outings and trips. “I never thought growing up that my brother would have such a happy life. For that, I am grateful.”

  6. Just read your letter to Dr. Phi. I do appreciate what you are doing. I have a mentally disable daughter who is now 46 that has always lived with us in HER home. Yes this is her home just as much as it would have been had she not been disable. I cannot comprehed how anyone could give their child up to the care of others because they require extra special care. My husband and I love our daughter unconditionally. And she also returns that love. What a wonderful life she has had with us. She has been exposed to so many so called normal activities in her life and has brought much happiness to us and her family and friends. My prayer has been over the years to be able to live and stay well in order to take care of Teresa. God has really answered my prayers. You see if you love someone, you want to take care of them. How can you not love your own child? Yes we have given up a so called normal life, but just knowing Teresa is well cared for is much more important than our own selfish pleasures. I hope and pray that we never become a nation of people who are so hartless we only care for ourselves. What happened to Teresa could have left me bitter, but it didn’t. You see Teresa suffered brain damage shortly after birth at the hospital because her airway had not been properly cleaned and she was placed in the nursery chocking and blue when a nurse was notified about the situation by friends of our when they came for a visit and saw Teresa in the nursery. I know God could have prevented this from happening had it been his choice. But he chose not to. I think for many reasons he allowed this to happen. I have love in me for Teresa that I did not know I had to give. I have experienced acceptance by people and friendship to Teresa that has been excepltional. You can ask me what true love is and I can tell you. We are enjoying our lives with our daughter and she is such a happy person and always has been. I thank God everyday for helping me with her. What a wonderful happy life we have had together and it could be for others if only they knew how to love.

  7. Wonderful letter. I am an adoptive parent of four boys with Intellectual Disabilities and president of our provincial organization that supports and advocates for individuals with ID, and was disappointed that this was being given international attention after it had opened up some rather hurtful and intense dialogue with its Canadian airing on Global TV.

    Val Surbey
    Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

  8. After his handling of Ted Williams fiasco it doesn’t surprise me of these tactics and what lengths he will go to for ratings. What does surprise me is that people watch his show and would consider him relevant as an authority on this topic or any other concerning people in such delicate situations. Obviously he has his boots on to kick those suffering with a disability down when they can’t get up and defend themselves to begin with. As a mother of such a child, kudos to you Dr Phil for revealing yourself as the egotistical, maniacal,dirt-bag who can now chalk one up for “the ability to perpetuate discrimination to those with disability and the elderly and invalids alike.’ Just allowing these ideals to be broadcast is aiding prejudice to those that are ill and defenseless and then to do so for your own self promotion is beyond foul. Just remember , it was Christ who said “Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.” Exploiting our children, brethren and fellow man for your own gain, from my understanding, dear sir, is a sin!

  9. I understand everything and complete agree with this. We live in a world that we want our family/children to be prefect. Many family are ashame of their love one and doesn’t want anyone to know about it. I wish they have a show about different kind of disability. I am deaf but wasn’t born into deaf. Both Kennedy family and John Lewis was so ashame about their love one. John Lewis is a congressman from Ga and his brother was deaf yet noone didn’t know it because he was in a hide place and John was ashame. I hate this. Family/friend need to love their love one. I am hope that Dr. Phil realize and do this and I don’t care about his schedule period. Stop hurt those with disability

  10. Thank you for addressing this. I was appalled when I saw just a small part of that Dr. Phil show. Thank you for adding a much needed perspective to this discussion. All life is worth living.

  11. Although we did not see the Dr Phil Show, its very interesting that the woman that wants to euthanize her 2 children is apparently from Canada? We too are from Canada, the province of Manitoba to be exact and a few years back…my wife Shelley …whom was born with Cerebral Palsy, non vocal, unable to walk etc…was able to provide a discourse by means of assitive technology on why it was wrong for a farmer from Saskatchewan to ‘gas’ his daughter Tracey because “HE deemed her life not worth living! My wife did that discourse in front of our solicitor general…which in the US would be your attorney general we believe and did it very well! So this letter you have sent to Dr Phil show is a very good letter and we wish to give it full support! That farmer from Saskatchewan did do jail time for what he had done, but now that he has been released still believes that he did the right thing? And so out there are people who can’t seem to understand the simple premise that WE as humans are not GODS it is not up to us to make decisions for others when it comes to their lives. Jeffery and Janet too have those same rights! Its their life NOONE elses! My wife Shelley is an expert when it comes to COMMUNICATION by eye movement and otherwise…and was once brought in to help ‘experts’ to read the outward cues of another young person born non vocal with cerebral palsy…people like Dr PHIL need to realize that “communication” is NOT just the ability to TALK…its the ability to get across ideas, thoughts and feelings…and that can be done in a multitude of ways besides VOICE alone! So good job on this letter and we do hope Dr Phil will give you the opportunity to show the other side of this very emotional issue! Thank you.

  12. Check out Illinois———We put our DD people on Craig’s list.Right next to Blue tick hounds and 4×4 trucks.We will pay you $40,000 tax-free to take one off our hands.

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