I Saw a Bear


(This post has been re written. Originally titled “There’s a Bear Out There” it was rewritten to focus the theme of the article on the negative portrayal of people with a disability in Fundraising. It was felt that the original article detracted from the essence of this message. Ed)

I found myself staring at a bear. He had been posted on Facebook. He was a kind of sorry looking bear. He had no eyes and no ears and he had stubby little legs. He looked almost like a double amputee. The bear was sitting sorrowfully on a wooden floor surrounded by wooden blocks and wooden toys. He is a bright yellow bear. He stands out from the toys that are reds, blues and greens. He looks so lonely and so sad. In the background on a blue wall were the words, “WE NEED YOUR HELP.”

On the toy blocks that surrounded the bear is the name of one of Australia’s most respected educational institutions, The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children. To my horror I realized that this sorrowful and pathetic looking bear was part of a fundraising campaign for the institute which supports young people who are deaf, blind or deafblind. This eyeless and earless stuffed creature was representing young people who could not hear or could not see or who had a dual disability and were deafblind.

I was furious. This bear is one of the most offensive things that I have ever seen that has been associated with people who have disabilities. I wanted to reach out and destroy this bear so that it was never seen again. I wanted to find every picture of this bear and throw it on an almighty bonfire and burn it into oblivion. I wanted to find every picture of this bear that exists on Facebook and zap it into cyberspace with the delete button.

In my time I have seen some pathetic depictions of people with a disability. I saw the very awful Cora Barclay advertisement of a young lad signing slowly and painfully and then in an all most sing-song voice breaking into speech and saying, “NOW THERE IS A BETTER WAY” I have seen the organization I worked for endorse a poster that had pictures of finger spelling saying – HOW TO SAY I LOVE YOU – and then directly below this having the picture of two hands pulling dollar notes from a wallet. I’ve read the insulting views of Dimity Dornan who, knowing full well she was insulting many deaf people all over Australia, called deafness the “scourge of the world” – Oh yes I’ve seen it bad but this bear is far worse than all of these examples..

What this eyeless and earless bear suggests is that to be either deaf or blind is to be less than whole.  You immediately look at the bear and you tell yourself something is missing. It is meant to evoke pity. It is designed to make the viewer feel that to be either deaf or blind is soulless, tragic and pathetic. BUT there is hope, and you can provide this hope by donating money so that the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children can save these children.

I have just come from the National DisabilityCare conference in Melbourne. At this conference I have had the enormous privilege of mixing with some of the finest people with disabilities in Australia. These people have intellect, great passion, untold skills and are living life to the full. I came away from this conference on the most enormous high.

You see, people with a disability all over Australia are living the most brilliant lives. They are contributing to this great nation and making it a better place. Not because they are poor, sad and tragic people, like that bloody bear, but because they are skilled driven and motivated people contributing to every aspect of life in Australia.

This BEAR depicts people with a disability as poor and useless creatures that can only be saved WITH HELP. Well, I am sorry, you can screw your help because people with a disability are done being portrayed as victims, hopeless and needing to be saved.

My friend Bill, on seeing this pathetic excuse of a fundraiser, had this to say.

“Talk about perpetuating stereotypes. In this day and age this sort of advertising has no place. The board of the Royal Institute for the Deaf and Blind Children should all be forced to resign over this. “

We all know that they will not resign. At the very least they should pull these advertisements down immediately – This bear is doing untold damage to the image of people who are deaf, blind, deafblind and all people with a disability!

 Just get rid of it NOW – PLEASE!


10 thoughts on “I Saw a Bear

  1. From Kathy Fitzmaurice –

    “Hear hear” Strong views and you’ve a right to feel disgusted. I would be very interested to know how the majority of the deaf and blind community feel about this method of fundraising and whether the person who came with with the idea to have the earless and eyeless bear as their mascot is in fact a deaf or a blind person? Highly unlikely right? Obviously tugging at the community’s heart strings reaps rewards – thats advertising. Will people donate if they see “the finest people with disabilities who have intellect and great passion and are living life to the full”? I’d be more concerned with how best the donations are being contributed towards the deaf and the blind people. I’d be happy to sign a petition if you get one started portraying that this form of advertising is not only degrading but portrays a pathetic image that deaf and blind people are a nuisance in society

  2. Really. If they are so capable why am I now being taxed extra for these capable intelligent human beings? Of they are so capable, why aren’t they all working? Because they can’t. Wake up. They do need help and if the bear gets help out of people who are sick of giving, to charities, via Centrelink. dishouts, new taxes… Then let the bear work his magic.

    • I suspect, Joanne, it’s because the public, who generally do not understand disability, have had their perceptions influenced by Ads like this one. They go away feeling we are sad and incomplete charity cases, unable to work ….helpless and in need of propping up. It sounds like it is not me that needs waking up, especially after you gave the very much needed NDIS a backhanded swipe. I suggest you research disability in Australia. It is not for nothing that 45% of people with a disability live below the poverty line and that ranks Australia the worst among OECD countries. But thanks for posting.

  3. I have written a formal letter to RIDBC about this ad and expressed my extremely disappointment, I asked them to consider removing the ad as well because as a deaf mother of deaf children, one of my children was born deafblind (she later restored her vision due to delay vision maturity development which couldnt be picked up at birth)..

    I hope in my heart they will take down that ad.. it breaks my heart even as an educator working with deaf children, deafblind children, deaf children with additional disabilities for more than 22 years I am appalled.

    How could they do this? how could they still ‘patronise’ us in this sense of manner.. that I dont understand but yet Directors have never really taken me seriously because I am purely ‘Deaf’.. 😦

  4. It is a very sad representation of individuals, I was thinking about all the amazing staff and consumers of Able Care ( previously Deaf Blind Care ) here in Victoria. I had the pleasure to do some planning with one of their day services and met staff and individuals who did not see barriers but only opportunties, helping people get jobs and participate in community life.

  5. Dear All,

    As the Chief Executive of RIDBC the approval of the noted campaign rested with me. The ad has been concluded and all “Yellow Bears” will be removed today / tonight.

    By way of explanation the ad was not designed to reflect a person who is deaf or blind but to associate “eyes and ears” with RIDBC a task that often proves difficult from a general community perspective. The fact that the comparison has been made, and, has caused distress is enough for immediate cessation of the probono campaign.

    RIDBC is committed to giving children the best start in life through its high quality educational programs and services. I will ensure that same high quality approach is applied to our general community awareness campaigns and media activities.

    Yours sincerely,

    Chris Rehn

    • Thank you Mr Rhenn … I really appreciate the prompt action and your public comment on here. I have nothing but respect for what you have just done.

      • That is really really great. Thanks Mr Rehn. Looking forward to see the new imagery of how RIDBC works with people to realize potential.

  6. Chris, thank you for listening and taking assertive action to remove the posters urgently before the issues raised becomes another barrier. I assume that by doing such it means it has significantly shortened advertising campaign initially planned. If do can I asked by how much as I understand it was launched 20th May 2013?

    How long was the poster campaign designed to go for?

    Dean Barton-Smith AM

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