Op Ed: People With Disabilities Deserve Better Than This Review

Megan McGuire as Roxy and Leonard Barrett as Billy Flynn in Chicago.
Megan McGuire as Roxy and Leonard Barrett as Billy Flynn in Chicago. Michael Ensminger Photography
I am writing in response to "Phamaly Brings Grace, Style and Decency to Chicago," Juliet Wittman's review of Phamaly Theatre Company's fine production of Chicago. It is irresponsible and lazy for a writer for a major publication to use ableist language and hint at damaging tropes, as Ms. Wittman did in the first paragraph of her review.

Her very first sentence, "I’d promised myself I wouldn’t use words like “inspirational” or “life-affirming” to describe the production...," hints at the idea of "inspiration porn," which people with disabilities (myself included) have to fight against every day. In one go, she conjures for the reader this idea while absolving herself of having even suggested such a thing. However, the damage is already done and it completely permeates the reader's interpretation of the review.

This runs counter to the mission of the very company that she is reviewing. As stated on its website, Phamaly's aim is to be a creative home for theater artists with disabilities; to model a disability-affirmative theatrical process; and to upend conventional narratives by transforming individuals, audiences and the world. All that Ms. Wittman has done is repeat out-of-touch viewpoints on people with disabilities.
As if this first sentence were not offensive enough, Ms. Wittman then goes on to use an outrageously outdated term to describe the talented artistic director, Regan Linton: "As I expected, under the direction of Regan Linton, who’s wheelchair-bound herself, the group came up with a stunning and brilliantly vital production — well staged, well choreographed, well acted and sung, and supported by Donna Debreceni’s wondrously passionate keyboard playing and musical direction." I can see how Ms. Wittman thought she was paying a compliment, and in many ways she is correct: The production is all the things she described. However, the use of the term "wheelchair-bound" distracts from any good intentions.  A quick online search of just the term returns myriad reputable articles about why this is outdated and should not be used any longer. (This website has some helpful quick tips.).

I encourage you to require that every single reporter you publish learn these basic skills and stop perpetuating ableist/outdated language. Please update how you are writing about people with disabilities. We are 20 percent of the population and deserve better.

Phamaly's run of
Chicago closed on August 25, but even after thirty years of productions, this local theater company inspires plenty of discussion. Read Juliet Wittman's review here; share your thoughts in a comment or email [email protected]
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