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Living with prosopagnosia.

Prosopagnosia Is No Laughing Matter

When people make fun of a disability, they deserve to be held accountable.

Brad Pitt announced this past week that he believes he has prosopagnosia. He is one of a string of celebrities who has made that announcement regarding this particular cognitive difference of theirs. He joins the likes of Oliver Sacks, Chuck Close, Jane Goodal (Goodall J, Berman P (2000). Reason for Hope: an extraordinary life. London: Thorsons. pp. XIII–XIV.) and many others including myself who have come forth to disclose their prosopagnosia and how their manifestations of prosopagnosia have effected them. Such people have brought prosopagnosia out of the darkness and, with their celebrity status, into the limelight.

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Me? I’m just the person who got it all started back in October of 1996 when I published my personal website, the very first personal web site about prosopagnosia. I am quite proud of that, and even prouder of the role I have played in making prosopagnosia better understood. With help from researchers like Brad Duchaine and Ken Nakayama, among many others, we have all helped bring discussion of prosopagnosia to the public. Occasionally in conversation, when I bring up prosopagnosia as I often do in my introductions to people, it is rather common that people say they have heard of it or read of it before. Seventeen years ago, that was not the case. Unwittingly, though not unwillingly, I somehow managed to become the poster child for people with prosopagnosia.

Stop bullying now.  Stand up.  Speak out.
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So when a nationally televised morning talk show like Today which is hosted by NBC, with the number of viewers in the millions, brings prosopagnosia up as a topic of discussion after Brad Pitt tells Esquire Magazine that he believes he has prosopagnosia, absolutely nothing could be more trivializing, condescending, and invalidating as when Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda (the first video clip available on this page) get the story right, but then make fun of the story, and the name of the condition prosopagnosia, in absolute disbelief of the whole point of the story in the first place. The offensive bit begins at 2 minutes and 45 seconds into the video segment. A couple of cheap laughs are not worth the difficulties and challenges that people with prosopagnosia face on a day-to-day basis.

It’s tough enough for those of us with prosopagnosia to figure out just how to get by in life. As I have described before, I am easily susceptible to being a victim of a crime (as are all people with prosopagnosia, especially children), let alone the school bullying I suffered as a child. Every. Single. Social. Interaction. Is. An. Enormous. Risk. For. Me! Truly, that is the only way to express my outrage at the disrespect and condescension permeating from this “comedic” video clip.

I am irate. I do not deserve to be treated that way. Brad Pitt does not deserve to be treated that way. Oliver Sacks, Jane Goodall, Chuck Close, and many, many others do not deserve to be treated that way. It is well understood that it is inappropriate to make fun of a person’s age, gender, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, and any number of other personal or character traits or beliefs. However, it seems okay to make fun of a person’s disability, particularly a disability which is not well understood by many people. It is well past time that this casual attitude towards disabilities, all disabilities, should end.

 

©2013 Glenn Alperin

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Glenn Alperin is a writer who has prosopagnosia.

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