There are two characters in the new film “Free Bird” with a visual Impairment. The main female character voiced by Amy Poehler, has one eye that droops at comedic moments and, unlike those with a real visual impairment from early childhood, can be returned to normal at will. Hers was an injury she sustained falling out of the nest.
The other is an elderly turkey with severe cataracts, who is shown having amorous feelings towards the lead character voiced by Owen Wilson. He mistakes Wilson’s male character as a woman-oh because according to Hollywood, someone who can’t see, can’t perceive reality.
It would appear that Free Bird, in the long tradition of ‘Hollywood Hits’ such as Mr. Magoo, continues to find visual impairment a great gag for cheap laughs. The older bird can’t tell a man when he touches him, is seen being led about by a child and mistakes tree bark for pizza. Why is that funny?
This type of humor needs to stop. The truth is this small minority is the most likely, as a disability group, to graduate from high school, but the least likely to be hired for meaningful employment. The older generation with even a small decrease in visual acuity is more likely to die in preventable accidents than those older adults with full vision. This truth should be a call to arms.
These older adults could benefit from instruction in the use of long white canes, but long, white canes are not seen in society as anything but meaning “I’m blind” and according to Hollywood, blind means “I’m a total idiot who can’t tell man from woman, pizza from tree bark and a little kid is better at finding his way than a grown up”.
New York students with visual impairments are the least likely to receive the full benefits promised by Federal Education law IDEA. Orientation and mobility specialists and vision rehabilitation therapists who work in adult vision rehabilitation agencies are paid the least of all the other fields of human services.
Further, too many adults shun the idea that they are visually impaired themselves, even their eye doctors conspire with them by not referring them to these valuable restorative services. Instead letting them fall, crash a car, or trip and die. We need solutions not jokes.
My wish is that these stereotypes will stop being funny and stop being used for cheap, sad laughs. People who are blind or visually impaired deserve our respect and, just like the rest of us, simply need a proper education and a career.
Demand licensure for these VRT and O&M Professionals, advocate for better reputation for the long cane and normalized views of those with a visual impairment. Hollywood Film Makers- You too can be part of the solution.