“Just Say Hi.” According to celebrities enlisted by the Cerebral Palsy Foundation (CPF), this is how people should handle talking to anyone with a disability. CPF recently launched their #JustSayHi campaign as a means “to address the unnecessary awkwardness many people feel around disabilities.” This intention is admirable, but it’s far from what the disability community really needs to make any advancement in acceptance or understanding. In fact, the campaign is rooted in ideas that are deeply problematic.
“Just Say Hi” implies that if you see someone who appears to have a disability, you should go up to them and say hello. Although this is trying to convey that you should treat disabled people as you would non-disabled people, the opposite message comes through. No one’s ever created a “Just Say Hi to Every Single Person You See” campaign. So, isn’t the whole point of the campaign contradicted by the fact that it exists in the first place?
Also, consider this: if you swapped out disability for any other appearance-related identifier, how would this campaign go over? #JustSayHi to Asian people. #JustSayHi to people with red hair. #JustSayHi to people who look like they weigh more than you do.
The premise of the campaign essentially reduces disabled people to their appearance. I clearly appear to be disabled because I use a wheelchair, but I’m not in need of extra attention. Instead of just saying hi, I’d say do what’s usual for you. If you’re the type of person to nod or say hello as you pass me on the street, that’s fine, and usually an accepted gesture (unless you happen to be in New York City since it’s practically a sin to look at people there). It’s really patronizing, though, when people go out of their way to shove attention at me. And in the “Just Say Hi” campaign’s attempt to prevent awkwardness, it’s potentially encouraging far more awkward situations. There’s no need to say hi because you think you’re obligated to do so. If a conversation begins organically, awesome! But if you’re forcing yourself to talk to me because you think it’s your good deed for the day…don’t.
Rather than changing stigmatizing attitudes, #JustSayHi is likely perpetuating the problem. Need proof? Look no further than the responses to campaign posts on CPF’s Facebook page. Here’s a sampling:
- “Hi!” – Yes, hi there. Do you even get the actual point of this campaign?
- “God bless them!” – Nope. No, you don’t seem to get the point of this campaign.
- “My Niece has cerebral palsy. They all have such a heart of gold.” – Actually, no. Disability doesn’t mean you should be held up on a pedestal. We’re all just humans.
- “They have a TONs to say!! Just take the time to listen.” – This makes me feel like another species.
Clearly, these comments are heavily influenced by the context in which the campaign is presented. “Just Say Hi” is cute and catchy, perhaps at a level appropriate for young children, and the videos are feel-good, but they do nothing to combat actual discrimination, which is rampant towards the disability community. If the campaign videos were contextualized differently, a couple of them could actually be very effective – especially the ones by William H. Macy and Satya Nadella. And context is absolutely key. CPF framed the PSAs in a way that feels condescending and even a bit alienating. The campaign is meant to be for disabled people and about disabled people, but there is a glaring absence of actual disabled people in the campaign. Most of the videos, with one exception, don’t even bother to include perspectives from people who are disabled. I get that the point was to wield a little star power by featuring celebrities, but how come CPF didn’t ask a whole bunch of people who have disabilities what we want or prefer in terms of interactions with other people? Now that could have been a useful PSA.
For comparison, I recommend a much more well done example of a disability etiquette campaign: Scope’s #EndTheAwkward. Unlike #JustSayHi, which barely skims the surface of very real issues experienced by the disability community, Scope’s campaign delves into misconceptions about disabilities and provides practical explanations, insights, and advice. It’s the kind of campaign that’s truly necessary.
Ultimately, I realize CPF’s heart was in the right place with this campaign, but it missed the mark in some big ways. The deeper conversations that the videos are intended to prompt are lost in the fray of jokes and a patronizing message. I’m not a celebrity, but I know a thing or two about disability, so here’s my PSA: just act normally around me. Treat me like you would any other person. Plain and simple.