Harrisburg, Pa. (June 3, 2016)– The Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council (PADDC), the organization that launched the Stigma Project campaign in April to change people’s thinking, behavior and attitudes toward people with disabilities, calls the messages in the recently released movie ‘Me Before You’ damaging. The provocative campaign that boldly placed common stigmatizing thoughts on bubbles across the state to get people’s attention regarding this important subject, says the movie is a perfect example of how stigma against people with disabilities is embedded in our culture and most people don’t realize they contribute to it.

The Hollywood romance movie which premiers in theaters all across the country today and stars British actress Emilia Clarke, is about the relationship that develops between a female caretaker and a rich, good-looking man who is left paralyzed after an accident. It’s the man’s outlook on life that he would rather be dead than live as a person with a disability that is offensive, hurtful and damaging.

“The idea that the character with a disability views his life as worthless, pitiful and a burden on others is sending the wrong message,” Graham Mulholland, Executive Director of PADDC, said. “The truth is that people with disabilities live fulfilling, meaningful and purposeful lives. There are thousands of people living with disabilities that choose to prosper, fight and live life to the fullest.”

Jeff Parker, 62 years old and a resident of Pittsburgh, has spinal muscular atrophy and uses a wheelchair. He says when the harmful stigmatizing stereotype presented by this story is displayed on the big screen, the damage is irreparable.

“The movie is advertised as romantic, a love story, a tearjerker, but it’s really just propaganda. It spreads a false, harmful viewpoint that there is no place for being different and no place for living differently in our world,” Parker explains. “The true irony is that you typically have someone come up to you and say, ‘I couldn’t live with what you have.’ But, now you can pay admission and eat popcorn while viewing stigma at its worst. You can now watch stigma as entertainment.”

In April 2016 all across Pennsylvania, thousands of thought bubbles appeared with harsh stigmatizing statements such as, “Mentally ill people are dangerous,” “Most ‘disabled’ people are just scamming the system,” and “There’s no such thing as a learning disability—people just need to work harder.” While offensive, volunteers from disability organizations around the state took to the streets and posted the thought bubbles with the objective of drawing attention to statements that are said to people with disabilities on a daily basis.

“What’s ironic is that when we planned the stigma campaign, one of the thought bubbles discussed was ‘I’d rather be dead than suffer like that handicapped person,’” Mulholland said. “We decided as a Council not to use that stigmatizing statement because it was extremely horrific. Isn’t it interesting that this is the underlying theme of what could potentially become a blockbuster Hollywood movie? It just reiterates the importance of our Stigma Project in getting people to start a real conversation about stigma and continuing to ask people, ‘What are you thinking?’”

The Stigma Project campaign includes a website where visitors can view videos, take a Stigma Quiz, pledge to end stigma and participate in other interactive activities designed to engage and educate. Campaign handouts and bracelets are being disseminated in communities across Pa., while Public Service Announcements will begin airing on radio and television stations. All communications materials lead the public to LetsThinkAgain.org and social media channels such as Facebook (facebook.com/LetsThinkAgainPA) and Twitter (twitter.com/LetsThinkAgain_).

“This movie just proves that stigma exists and we have a lot of work to do. We need to stare stigma in the face and realize how offensive and debilitating it is,” Mulholland said. “We all want to be respected. We can achieve this regardless of how we look, move, think, hear and communicate. Differences are not deficits,” he added.

For more information regarding the Stigma Project or this press release, please contact Paul Kuglar at pkuglar@pa.gov or via phone at 724-934-5449.

About Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council (PADDC)

The PADDC is a group made up of people with disabilities, family members, advocates, and state department representatives who work to create favorable conditions for people with developmental disabilities and their families in the Commonwealth. Created under a federal act and Governor’s Executive Order, the Council is both a planning group and a funding body. For more information, visit www.paddc.org.