Re: Huffington Post’s “beautifuly touching” picture

The article

So a McDonald’s worker helped a disabled man by feeding him his food. Good job, Mr He. It’s a nice act, but whenever acts of kindness mix with disability, reporters spoil the moment by writing about it.

The reporter’s big mistake – apart from the article’s title – was featuring creepy diner woman Li Ting, witness to the event. Did she even get permission for that photo? She seems the type of person who’d insist on taking a photo regardless of the answer. Mr He doesn’t exactly seem thrilled in the photo and for all we know the disabled man just wants to eat his damn food.

‘People like this in society are running out.’

I hate Li already. We all have that friend who keeps mourning the loss of the good ol’ days, when everyone fed each other burgers whether you were disabled or not. I remember back in ’96 you’d only have to leave your front door and passing strangers were tossing chips into your mouth – the good ol’ days. Kind people will never run out, just as assholes will never run out. Most of us function sometimes with the heart and sometimes the asshole.

‘He was very loving towards [the customer] and patient when he helped him to bite the burger.’

Maybe this is a bad translation from the original Mandarin, but I can’t replace the image of the poor customer needing to be taught how to consume basic food. Unless He really did help him bite the burger by manipulating the customer’s jaw. She goes on to say:

‘Thank you for helping him to eat a full meal so he can continue with his life.’

No. Thank you, Li. Because I’m sure the unnamed disabled guy didn’t think to thank He himself. His life depended on one man that day and He delivered.

I like to imagine Li misread the whole situation. Disabled man was really holding He at gunpoint, sick of asking to be fed week in, week out and hearing ‘I’m busy cleaning toilets’ as the response. Either that or He wanted to look good near the new blonde manager – disabled man actually resents any sort of assistance. Nah, a manager wouldn’t approve of such an action from a business perspective, so there’s that.

It was probably just a sweet gesture, although if He did nothing to help would he now be considered an asshole? You have to be careful when interacting with disabled people because by the end of the exchange you’re either going to be Prince Charming or President Putin. It might’ve been a trickier decision if He was specifically told to ‘stop working and feed me’: who would dare say no? And now for the question nobody will ask because who cares about passive disabled man: if the customer can’t feed himself, why did he go to the restaurant alone in the first place? It’s an interesting question that may have an interesting answer, but we’ll never know because it doesn’t matter what the disabled person thinks in this article. We only care that disabled guy was taken care of.

I’m not taking anything away from the deed here, it’s just an odd thing to report especially when the two main people involved aren’t around to discuss it. I do like referring to the worker as “He”, though. Don’t they have name badges? Maybe it was God who fed the customer: ‘He asked him to wait upstairs.’ Hang on, did the customer ever exit the restaurant? Maybe he’s still upstairs, chewing on an infinite Big Mac.

If you’re wondering what I aim to achieve by bitching about this mediocre article, welcome to the club. I guess it’s to do with the fact that the witness comes across as the real hero here. Li was the one who took the dodgy picture, who spread the news. It sounds like the writer didn’t bother clarifying He’s view on having his face over the Internet, and as for mysterious disabled guy – who cares? Why wouldn’t he want this private moment shared with potentially millions of people? Next time somebody holds the door open for me, I’ll thank them by taking their photo with my handheld perv-cam and posting it on my very public Facebook. They’ll be grateful, I’m sure.

Sometimes it feels as if newspapers treat disability as a guaranteed sell. If the story contains a disabled person and an act of kindness, the readers will be happy. And this makes sense. But I do wish reporters would challenge general assumptions within their articles. Assumptions I’ve already examined include being perceived as innocent and cute because you’re disabled, having low or no intelligence, disability as an unbearable misery. And this doesn’t have to be in-your-face stuff. All we know about the disabled guy in this article is that he struggles a lot. OK, but what other information do you have? Did he at least appreciate the assistance? Did he want this event publicised? Did he and He get along well? This is the irony with mainstream media – they love those who say they don’t let their disability define them (whatever that means), then they publish countless pieces wherein the disabled person has all the definition of the new disabled Lego figure.

Talk to customer and worker, give us their views, get their names and confirm that they’re both OK with the photo – then you’ll have a mildly uplifting, less creepy article.

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