Sunday, October 22, 2006

SOUND OFF: TEXTBOOK WHEELCHAIRS

The book publisher Houghton Mifflin has run into criticism for publishing textbooks with photos depicting children in wheelchairs who are actually child models who can walk, instead of models who actually use wheelchairs.

My readers held mixed opinions about this controversy.

"The idea that a person with a disability is (depicted) is, in the end, probably a more important factor than if the person is actually disabled," writes Cynthia Dines of Carmichael, Calif. "However, morally I disagree with the publisher's decision. It represents what is common in the corporate world: that money, not people, is the bottom line."

Linda Saxon of Amherstburg, Ontario, goes a step further.

"Persons with disabilities should be hired equally to portray persons with and without disabilities," Saxon writes, "so that society can embrace diversity and put an end to stereotyping. A disability is just one characteristic of a person, like someone having red hair or blue eyes."

But Karrin Hopper of Trabuco Canyon, Calif., believes that the controversy is a tempest in a teapot.

"Too much is being made about nothing," she writes. "A model is paid to bring an idea to life, similar to an actor. ... The publisher should be praised for its effort to show a diverse group of children."

Laura Oliver of Aliso Viejo, Calif., seconds that notion.

"Do these critics who charge Houghton Mifflin have no life?" Oliver asks. "Do they really have nothing better to do than to research a picture and find out if the models are really disabled?"

Check out other opinions at http://jeffreyseglin.blogspot.com/2006/09/sound-off-wheelchair-walkers.html or post your own by clicking on "comments" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business" (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of http://www.jeffreyseglin.com, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 609 Greenwich St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610.

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