No, Actually, Cracks About Mental Illness Don’t Make Me Want to Donate to Your Organisation

When I’m at home, I usually have a regional radio station that plays mostly classical music and some NPR on in the background. One of the features I happen to really like is Car Talk, a call in show about car issues which has been running for a number of years now. Car Talk is not without problems; sometimes I really cringe over the things said on the show, but it’s also sometimes really sweet, and funny.

They don’t just offer advice about cars, sometimes there are discussions about life problems, and I’m thinking in particular of an ongoing series which ran when a college student who was really confused and unhappy called in to the show to ask for help. Not only did they give great advice on the show, they read followup letters from readers in future episodes, and eventually got a letter back from the student, and it was pretty neat. Not just for her, but for other people in the same position who might have heard it and gotten something out of it.

I say this to set the stage for a promotion the station airs sometimes.

Car Talk sponsors a program called the Vehicle Donation Program. Basically, if you have an old car you don’t want, you can donate it, and the program will sell the car and send the proceeds to your radio station, and then you get to take a tax deduction. Car Talk has recorded a couple of promotional spots which radio stations can air to alert listeners to the existence of the program. Since public radio relies on support from listeners, stations want to make sure that people are aware of as many donation options as possible, and thus the local station airs some of these promos on a pretty regular basis.

Some of the promotions for the car donation program are cute and funny. Jokes about clearing the driveway of old jalopies, or trading in your gas guzzler for a car with better mileage, for example. Tom and Ray, the hosts of Car Talk, are good at silly patter.

One of them isn’t. It centers around the idea that people who are reluctant to get rid of old cars are ‘suffering from Vehicle Dissociative Disorder.’ Har har har, it’s so funny, get it?

Yeah, I don’t laugh either, and the radio station plays this promo all the time. I just…want to throw things every time I hear it. I wrote a letter to Car Talk and the station about why that promo bugs me so much, and why can’t they use the promos that aren’t so enraging, but I haven’t heard back.

I’m just one listener, right? What does it matter.

And I thought about the fact that the local station just ran their biannual fund drive, and how, honestly, one of the reasons I did not want to donate was because of this one promotional spot. This one thing, this casual ableism, is a barrier to me joining the station as a member. And the station could swap it out for a different spot, and solve the problem. Does the station care about not having my membership? I don’t know. And I don’t know if there are other listeners out there who are also choosing not to contribute to this station’s fund drive because of this promo, or who choose not to be involved with fund drives at other stations (Car Talk is syndicated) because of this promo.

I am not the only person who writes letters about things like this. And these letters are ignored all the time. Even when people organise a mass letterwriting campaign, it doesn’t seem to work very often. Sometimes, the consequence of saying ‘hey, please don’t use this language’ is having your letter presented for mockery, or being banned from the comments of a web site, or having people roll their eyes every time you start talking. It’s a hard thing to do, to say something unpopular, especially for people who keep doing it, and I have immense appreciation for people with disabilities and allies who communicate about this stuff on a regular basis, sometimes in very hostile spaces.

It never ceases to amaze me that we make up around one fifth of the population and, for the most part, we are treated as though we don’t matter and don’t exist.

About s.e. smith

s.e. smith is a recalcitrant, grumpy person with disabilities who enjoys riling people up, talking about language, tearing apart poor science reporting, and chasing cats around the house with squeaky mice in hand. Ou personal website can be found at this ain't livin'.

4 thoughts on “No, Actually, Cracks About Mental Illness Don’t Make Me Want to Donate to Your Organisation

  1. That spot made me cringe, too, but I’m not in a financial position to consider becoming a member, so I never wrote to the station. I felt like I had no reason to ask them to pull it that would be strong enough in their eyes–I cannot afford membership and am apparently a whiney whiner.

    I just don’t get it. When blatantly ableist language (or racist, or sexist, whateverist) is pointed out to me, I apologize and try to remember to do better in the future, because I don’t like intentionally being rude (as an autistic adult, I have enough trouble with accidentally being rude!). Yet with most other people, if I point out that their language is ableist, I get derision, mockery–heck, I just got my commenting privileges downgraded on Jezebel for speaking up, plus a lecture/’splainin on site and via email. It wouldn’t harm the local NPR affiliate to run the other ads at all, so why steadfastly refuse?

  2. Ali, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for nonmembers/people who can’t donate to write their stations (should they wish to do so). One of the things about public radio is that it’s supposed to be egalitarian and accessible to everyone, regardless of financial status; ableism is a barrier to your enjoyment of public radio whether or not you are a member. And, in fact, back in the days before I could afford to be a member, I once wrote a letter to the station about a local ad which I found problematic and received a very polite and lovely response; public radio stations should care about all their listeners, not just the ones who can afford memberships!

  3. S. E., I do regret not writing to them–in retrospect, you’re right–but I’ve since moved and really think they won’t listen now.

  4. There’s a lot of this about. If disability is increasingly considered OK territory for ‘non-PC’ jokes, mental health is getting the worst of it – probably because the stigma around mental health has always been so strong. I think writing letters is about all we can do, but we can at least do that.

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