Hire the handicapped, they\'re fun to watch

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Hire the handicapped, they're fun to watch

Hire the handicapped, they're fun to watch - on restaraunt menu!

 http://www.projo.com/eastba...

It was just a joke -- a harmless way, Steve Cleary said, to tease his wait staff. Cleary didn't even make up the line, he argued. It's based on a story from his childhood, he said.

But a woman with a daughter with Down syndrome and a neuro- degenerative disease didn't think it was funny. Claire Canning, of Portsmouth, was offended by the comment, so much so that she has asked Bristol residents to boycott one of the town's most popular waterfront restaurants because of what was printed on its paper menu that changes regularly. It reads, in part, "hire the handicapped . . . they're fun to watch!"

It's an issue that has sparked heated debate around town, provoking numerous letters to the editor and even catching the eye of officials at RI ARC, who visited J.G. Goff's Pub & Grille to see the menu firsthand. At the heart of the matter, all involved say, is one simple question: how far is too far?

The story began last month, when Canning brought her 31-year-old daughter, Martha, to Bristol for a routine visit to a neurologist. Martha uses a wheelchair and requires 24-hour care, her mother said.

Canning said she took her daughter to lunch at Goff's, which -- on a beautiful day like that one -- offers the best view of Bristol Harbor. After ordering, she noticed a three-line joke at the bottom of the second page of the menu.

It read: "Year's [sic] ago, J.G. worked at his Dad's electrical engineering business. One day, J.G.'s Dad placed a sign over J.G.'s drafting table which read: 'hire the handicapped . . . they're fun to watch!' Now if J.G. could only find that sign to place over the waitress station! Go ahead watch our staff as they do everything accept [sic] serve you. You have to laugh about it! I cry!!!"

Canning felt sick. "What kind of person is so inhumane that he dares darken the reputation of a lovely town by making me feel I never want to go to his restaurant, or even to his village again? My daughter and all other persons with disabilities have more dignity than he can ever hope to know!," she wrote in a letter sent to The Providence Journal.

Cleary said Canning's interpretation of the remark was taken out of context. He is familiar with Martha Canning's medical condition and said he feels horrible about her condition.

The joke is one of many on his menu, none of which are meant to offend people, Cleary said.

Cleary's menu pokes fun at the annual Bristol Fourth of July parade, the town's national claim to fame. Town councilors and other officials patronize Goff's without becoming offended, Cleary said.

And therein lies the problem, said James V. Healey, executive director of RI ARC, which promotes and protects the welfare of people with mental disabilities. As long as it's considered acceptable to poke fun at certain groups but not others, stereotypes and prejudice against minority groups, including the disabled, will never be completely eradicated, Healey said.

"Suppose if someone did this with black people or Puerto Ricans or any other Hispanic group: there would be hell to pay," he said. "I'm glad [Canning] had the opportunity to say, 'You may be funny. You may be a funny guy, but you've gone too far below the standard here, and that's not acceptable.' "

"This is offensive. We want to be part of a community, but not this way."

Healey said he might make another trip to Goff's to present his point of view to Cleary, but added that he does not want to overreact to the situation. Because Cleary changes the paper menu pages regularly, Healey didn't see the joke during his recent trip there.

When asked if he would remove the joke from his menu, Cleary said, "My menu changes daily."
By netchicken: posted on 18-11-2002








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