David Bruce: Anecdotes About People with Handicaps

In 1897, José Clemente Orozco was a 14-year-old boy living in Mexico City. Like other boys his age, he was curious about fireworks and gunpowder, and when he was alone one day, he experimented. Suddenly, the gunpowder exploded, blowing three fingers off his left hand and also badly injuring his right hand. Young Clemente ended up having his left hand amputated, and he nearly lost his right hand as well. In addition, his sight and hearing were damaged. For the rest of his life, he was forced to wear thick glasses, and he never regained hearing in his left ear. Nevertheless, he became one of Mexico’s foremost painters, gaining special renown for his murals. In 1947, he won Mexico’s National Prize in the Arts and Sciences, and when he died in 1949, he was given the honor of burial in the Rotunda de los Hombres Illustres (Rotunda of the Illustrious Men).

David Frost’s father was a fine preacher, in part because of an accident that happened to David Frost’s grandmother. Mr. Frost’s grandmother was riding in a carriage which turned over, so she threw herself across her baby to protect it. The baby was fine, but because of the accident, she became deaf. Therefore, as the baby — Mr. Frost’s father — was growing up, he enunciated everything very clearly so his mother (Mr. Frost’s grandmother) could read his lips. This enunciation practice paid off when he became a preacher. Mr. Frost says, “My father up in the pulpit is now the greatest preacher I’ve ever heard. He pronounces and enunciates so properly. Why? Because of a disability of his mother. God took that and used it so my father would be a better preacher.”

As a comedian with cerebral palsy, which affects her control of her muscles, Geri Jewell has been in some interesting situations. When she showed up to take her driving test, the examiner refused to allow her to take it on the grounds that she was drunk! And when she went on a field trip to a psychiatric hospital with her college psychology class, one of the attendants thought she belonged there. When she tried to leave with the rest of the class, the attendant told her, “Come on now, honey. You can’t go with those people. This is your home here.” Ms. Jewell had to yell for help so her professor could tell the attendant that she was a student — the attendant was shocked and muttered, “I guess they’re letting everybody into college nowadays.”

Al Capp, the creator of the comic strip Li’l Abner, was born in 1909 and lost his left leg in a trolley car accident when he was nine years old. At this time, replacements for lost legs were made of wood — since then, they have much improved. As an adult, Mr. Capp was able to joke about the loss of his leg. He told people with two legs that he was only half as likely as they to catch athlete’s foot. He also pointed out that he saved money buying socks. He used to buy six pairs of socks at one time, nail one sock to his wooden leg, and take turns wearing the other 11 socks on his one remaining foot. And, of course, he was able to make millions of comic strip readers laugh with his Li’l Abner.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt could not walk on his own, and great care was taken to hide that fact from the public. He declined to appear in public with crutches or in a wheelchair. To appear to walk on his own, he would walk while tightly holding the arm of a supporting son or friend. In addition, he would enter buildings by routes where he could not be seen. For example, once he was carried up a fire escape. On another occasion, the fire escape was too narrow for someone to carry him, so he dragged himself up the fire escape with his arms.

Congressman Morris K. Udall had a glass eye, the result of an accident and a botched operation when he was a child. In college, he played center in basketball and during one game, he played extremely well, scoring 24 points. When he came out of the game, a sportswriter who came from the town of the opposing team told him, “Udall, you are a liar. No one shoots like that with a glass eye.” Mr. Udall took his glass eye out of its socket and handed it to the sportswriter, saying, “Mister, I haven’t been able to see much out of this one — you try it.”

Blues singer Sonny Terry became blind as a result of two accidents when he was a child. At age 11, he beat a stick against a chair, and a piece of wood broke off, flew up, and put out one of his eyes. At age 16, another boy threw a piece of metal at him and put out the other eye.

When two deaf people are arguing and one person gets tired of the argument, all she has to do to end the argument is to close her eyes. It is up to the other person to figure out how to get her to open her eyes so the argument can continue.

Rabbi Yose saw a blind man carrying a lit torch at night. When he asked him why he was carrying the torch, the blind man answered, “So long as this torch is in my hand, people see me and save me from the pits and the thorns and the thistles.”

A blind woman needed to attend a meeting, and a friend offered to drive her there. The blind woman gratefully accepted the offer, then joked, “Remember, if you arrive and all the lights are out, that doesn’t mean I’ve already left.”

Comedian Adam Keefe used to do a routine on silent movies that relied on sight gags for laughs. One manager of a club where Mr. Keefe did the routine told him, “I don’t think you’re funny.” The manager was blind.

On a golf course, someone asked Sammy Davis, Jr. about his handicap. He replied, “I’m a colored one-eyed Jew — do I need anything else?”

© 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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