David Bruce: Anecdotes About People with Handicaps

Geri Jewell is a hearing-impaired comedian (her major handicap is cerebral palsy), which can sometimes lead to misunderstandings. For example, once some fans called her name and followed her down a street, and they thought she was ignoring them. Instead, she simply wasn’t wearing her hearing aids that day — she wears them only about 60 percent of the time, and quite often, when there is background noise, they don’t help. In addition, she and another hearing-impaired comedian, Kathy Buckley, sometimes have “deaf lunch.” They make a lunch date, but one of them mishears the other, and so they end up eating alone in different restaurants, with each of them wondering where the other one is.

Doctors can’t explain why Carol Johnston was born with only one arm, but she didn’t let it stop her from becoming an All-American gymnast. Called “Lefty,” Ms. Johnston won silver medals on balance beam and floor exercise at the 1978 United States national gymnastics championships in Seattle, Washington. (She was almost late for her performance on the beam, because she was eating chocolate ice cream.) Ms. Johnston said, “I’m not supposed to be a gymnast physically, but no one told me that mentally. No one said I couldn’t be creative with one arm.” So she became creative with one arm — creative enough to become a famous gymnast.

When he was young, Clement Freud, who was later a Member of Parliament, went to a cocktail party, where he went up to a young couple and asked if he could get them some drinks. The young woman made a few movements with her hands, then said, “No, thank you.” So Mr. Freud asked if he could get them some canapés. Once again, the woman made a few movements with her hands, then said, “No, thank you very much.” Mr. Freud then asked if she had ever tried this, and he beat out a pat-a-cake rhythm on the table, then stuck his fingers in his ears. The woman replied, “Actually, my husband is deaf and I was explaining your questions to him.”

Al Capp, creator of the comic strip Li’l Abner, had a wooden leg, which occasionally created embarrassing situations for him. Once, at the Savoy Hotel in London, he lay in bed as a waiter took his breakfast order. Because Mr. Capp was well covered with bedding, the waiter could not tell that he had only one leg, but the waiter did notice the foot of Mr. Capp’s wooden leg, clothed in a shoe and a stocking, sticking out from under the bed. In fact, the waiter stared at it. Becoming aware that Mr. Capp was watching him stare at the leg, the waiter recovered his composure, finished taking Mr. Capp’s order, then said, “Very good, sir. And what will the other gentleman have?”

Early in her career, Carol Burnett volunteered to work with handicapped children at New York University’s Medical Center. Every week for the next four years — until she left for Hollywood — she volunteered there. The first time she volunteered, she found it difficult because many of the children were terribly deformed. A boy with no arms or legs recognized her and asked, “Hey, are you that nut on TV?” Ms. Burnett replied, “Sure, I’m that nut. But do you mind calling me Carol?”

Kitty O’Neil, a stunt woman on TV’s Wonder Woman series, broke the land speed record for women on December 6, 1976, in the Alvord Desert in Oregon. She drove a rocket car named the Motivator, breaking the old record of 308 miles an hour by over 200 miles per hour — her new record was almost 513 miles an hour. After she finished her historic drive, she climbed out of the Motivator to the cheers of the crowd. However, Ms. O’Neil didn’t hear the cheers — she is deaf.

Helen Keller was born both deaf and blind, and it was years before she learned to speak. Nevertheless, she was always very curious intellectually. While visiting the dance school of choreographer Martha Graham, Ms. Keller asked what jumping was. Ms. Graham had Ms. Keller place her hands on the hips of dancer Merce Cunningham, and he jumped several times. Her face radiant with joy, Ms. Keller said, “How like thought. How like the mind it is.”

Belly dancer Mésmera once performed for musician Stevie Wonder. She made music for him by clicking her tiny zill cymbals, which he enjoyed, but because Mr. Wonder is blind, he was missing the dance. Therefore, she put his hands on her hips so he could feel the movements of the dance. Of course, she didn’t put his hands anywhere else, and because Mr. Wonder is a gentleman, he didn’t try to put his hands anywhere else.

At the 1992 Olympic Games held in Barcelona, Spain, Jackie Joyner-Kersee won a gold medal in the heptathlon. However, after she clinched heptathlon gold in the 800-meter race, she was forced to delay her victory lap because an asthma attack made it difficult for her to breathe. Fans chanted her name, and finally she was able to take her victory lap and shake hands with some of her fans.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Meyer Berger was known for his good deeds. Once, he wrote an article about a school for blind children. Shortly afterward, a truckload of toys arrived for the children. The director of the school was sworn to secrecy regarding the identity of the gift-giver, but after Mr. Berger interviewed people in need, financial aid always seemed to fall in their path.

Wingy Manone played jazz trumpet despite losing his right arm. After the house of his friend Bing Crosby burned down, Mr. Manone helped him sort through the wreckage. They came across a clothes closet in which several sports coats were hanging, all of them with the right arm burned off. Mr. Manone looked at the sports coats, then said, “Hey, man, these are for me!”

The Chazon Ish was once walking with another man when he suddenly slowed down, then told the other man, “There is a man with a limp walking in front of us. We ought not to pass him and remind him of his handicap.”

© 2016, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved

David Bruce has written lots of collections of anecdotes, plus other books. Take a look at the list here:


Most of the anecdotes are funny; some are thought provoking.

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