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Russell's story and the stereotypical narrative of the work of people with disabilities

News has gone viral again which, in reality, dates back over four years ago, and yet it's his storytelling ableist it has not changed over time, fueling toxic stereotypes and prejudices towards people with disabilities (in this case intellectual).

It is the “story” of Russell O'Grasyadult person with Down syndrome, who retired after working in Sydney since 1986 as a waiter for McDonald's: the man was able to carry out his job correctly like any other person, yet his work was reported (indeed, celebrated) with pseudo-empathetic titles like that «He is retiring after serving smiles for 32 years».

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Served smiles? But really? With all the good and sympathy one could wish for Russell O'Grasy, normalizing disability means first of all treating those who experience it first-hand like the so-called people “able-bodied”, without any toxic romanticization: Russell worked serving food, perhaps even during bad days, when he didn't feel like smiling at all. Not smiles, but sandwiches and drinks with some chips or croquettes on the side. And I hope lots of mayonnaise. But I didn't smile.

Working is a right, as well as a tool for autonomy and independence: recognizing this means recognizing the dignity of the person in question and their right to be a citizen and citizen in all respects, and not out of courtesy or pietism but because this is how it must be. Then, if there is a way, time and space to smile, very well to do so, as it is good for the heart, but that is the frame and never the centre.

Source: Vanity Fair

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