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TelethonsSpectacle, Disability, and the Business of Charity$
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Paul K. Longmore

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780190262075

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190262075.001.0001

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“Heaven’s Special Child”

“Heaven’s Special Child”

The Making of Poster Children

Chapter:
(p.154) 11 “Heaven’s Special Child”
Source:
Telethons
Author(s):

Paul K. Longmore

, Catherine Kudlick
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190262075.003.0012

Charles Dickens’s Tiny Tim, the suffering crippled boy in his wildly popular novel A Christmas Carol, established an enduring image of the disabled child that telethons made into a constant and powerful cultural symbol to raise money. Embodying the charity tradition and the medical model, disabled children appeared on yearly telethons, donation containers, and advertisements, and many served as traveling ambassadors for a given charity. These children (more girls than boys, more whites than children of color), were carefully chosen to match a given organization’s message and for their ability to enrich the bottom line. Most important, they shaped the identities of millions of people with disabilities as pathetic, helpless, and limited. The charities also started summer camps that perpetuated these stereotypes but also provided opportunities to combat them.

Keywords:   Tiny Tim, donations, poster children, innocent victims, social roles, adulthood, childhood, parenting, Jerry’s Kids, summer camps

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