by Leroy F. Moore Jr.
If you go online or watch television, you must have heard the buzz about Susan Boyle's appearance on Britains Got Talent 2009, the UK cousin of American Idol. If you dig a little deeper, you will find out that Susan Boyle has a learning disability. In the UK, "learning disability" is a reference to people with developmental disabilities, but this is not an article on terminology. Basically, Boyle has a disability, according to news reports.
Now, let's compare Susan Boyle's story to that of Prudence Mabhena, a wheelchair user from Zimbabwe, who approached the Idol franchise, Africa Idol, with her band, Liyana. After the group performed, the judges told Prudence that she was talented, but that because she is a wheelchair user, it wouldn't be fair to her or the other competitors to have her on the show.
This is how the franchise dealt with two disabilities - one visible and one invisible. Although Susan Boyle was harshly judged before she even opened her mouth because of her age, she made it on to the show and is now in the running to win the whole competition. Liyana and Prudence also felt judged because of their disabilities, but they were not given the opportunity to compete in the show - not based on talent, but on visible disability.
I can tell you that Prudence is on the same level musically as Boyle - both are great singers. I wonder if Boyle had a visible physical disability, would she get the same green light? What does this mean for very good musicians who have a noticeable disability? As we know from history, the music industry can deal with certain disabilities like blindness, and then have a very hard time dealing with physical disability. In the interviews with Boyle that I watched, the reporter seemed to be speaking to her as if she were a child. Does Boyle represent the way the media looks at disability and talent? Most people with disabilities can relate to the feeling that we are being treated like children. We can't forget Jerry Lewis and his telethon, and how he has displayed people with disabilities. Has the Idol franchise learned from Jerry Lewis?
These are only my thoughts on how the Idol franchise looks at and treats people with certain types of disabilities. The comparison between Prudence's and Susan Boyle's disabilities and how the Idol franchise treats them only scratches the surface of the topic of how disability is viewed worldwide. I invite our readers to expand on, share your thoughts on, and critically critique what I have written.
Leroy F. Moore Jr
Sins Invalid's Community Relations Director
To hear Prudence and Liyana, scroll to the bottom of this page: http://liyanatour.com/band.cfm
Sinsinvalid.org, 30th April 2009