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ALEXANDRIA, Ky. - Calling a woman in a wheelchair "crippled" can get you arrested. That is what Forest Thomer learned at the "Party in the Park" at Sawyer Point a few weeks back.
On Wednesday, June 20, Thomer answered to the charges in front of a judge, but the case was continued until July because Thomer's attorney was not hired until Monday.
Thomer and comedian, Ally Bruener, 23, were at the event downtown to promote her upcoming act. The issue was that Bruener's act is called "I laughed at the crippled girl." Bruener has muscular dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair. So when her friend Thomer was telling people that they could laugh at her, some people were offended and the pair was asked to leave. When they did not, the Cincinnati police came to the venue and arrested Thomer, but not Bruener.
The stand-up comic is based in Louisville, Ky., and is originally from Alexandria, Ky. Her comedy is about her life experiences of living with the muscular dystrophy. Her website is entitled " I Laughed at the Crippled Girl ."
That title has people throughout the region either upset because of the use of the word "crippled," or others are impressed or laughing with Bruener about her brave stance on marketing herself.
"When you first hear it, it's very jarring," said Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services Director of Community Relations, Jenny Dexter. "[That title] goes against the grain for what I'm charged to do."
Her office used to be known as MRDD (Mental Retardation Developmental Disabilities) which changed its name in 2009, because the state of Ohio had charged "retardation" was inappropriate. Now Dexter's office name reflects more of what its mission is, to help all people who have a disability.
"It's about respect," Dexter said. "It's about treating people with dignity, and people with disabilities have not always been treated with respect and dignity."
That is why Dexter and numerous other professionals in the region joined together to create a "People first language." The idea is to put the person first in a description, like: "She is a mom who is single" as opposed to "She is a single mom." The point is that the mom is not defined by being single so why point that out. Just like society typically would not point out that a mom who is married is married.
As shocking as Bruener's website and marketing campaign is, Dexter held true to her earlier statement.
"I do respect that [Bruener] is making a difference, probably in people's minds when she's being so extreme about it," Dexter said. "In a lot of cases, unless you jar people or make the hair on the back of their neck stand up, they don't pay attention. So I do think that she's trying to raise people's awareness about being respectful."
Bruener pointed out that she is not offended should someone refer to her as a "crippled." However, she understands where others find it inappropriate and mean. She also agreed that her life is more about living it than having muscular dystrophy.
"My disability definitely influences my life, but it doesn't define my life," she said. "It has given me unique experiences, but I've had other unique experiences that have nothing to do with it."
While Bruener makes fun of her experiences of overcoming MD, she really wants people to accept her as a woman who has goals, wants and needs. She graduated from Campbell County High School in 2006 and the University of Louisville for three and half years afterwards. Now she is trying to blaze a trail in the comedy field to build a career in comedy. Bruener hopes to fall in love, get married and even start a family.
"Comedy is my passion. Beyond that, I want to be able to open minds," she said. "I'm the kind of person that you can ask me anything. I'm not very intimidating, and I want the world to know, if you are curious it's okay to ask."
Bruener explained that children will stare at her, because they are curious. While she waits for them to ask about her condition, typically, a parent will pull a child away and say, "It's not polite to stare." For the 23-year-old, pretending she does not exist is rude, at least say "hi" when there is an opportunity.
"People need to let their guard down a little bit and appreciate the differences than be afraid of them," said Bruener. "What harm can it do… you might meet a lot more really cool people.
"You know, everybody has problems, and personally, my problems are no bigger than anybody else's," she said. "I want to make your problems a little less horrible. The way I see it, when you're laughing you're not worrying."
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