Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Activists for disabled slam safe-driving ad

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The Winnipeg Police Service's latest "Just Slow Down" TV commercial has collided with advocates in the disability community.

The one-minute, 47-second commercial, which aired during the recent Sochi Olympics, shows, through the driver's eyes, the aftermath of a collision that claimed a passenger's life. Just before the crash, the passenger warns the driver: "Matt, quit being a jerk. Slow down."

Although advocates for the disabled support the message of driving safely, they reject the final 20 seconds that show the driver sitting forlornly in a wheelchair on the other side of a chain-link fence watching two guys play basketball, while in his thoughts he says: "Why did I do this to everybody?"

Jared Funk, a three-time Paralympic Games medallist in wheelchair rugby, said he's angry the commercial depicted the man sitting in the wheelchair as a "social outcast."

"It's an excellent commercial up to that point," Funk said from his Niverville home on Monday.

"The commercial is ruining everything I've been trying to build up for the last 20 years," he said. "It has taken me and Manitoba wheelchair sports a long time to bring awareness about wheelchair sports, and in 10 seconds it is broadcast around that when you get injured, you become useless. To me, it's like a spit in the face."

Jesse Turner, co-chair of the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities and who uses a wheelchair, agreed, saying: "I really despise campaigns like this. They just continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes."

Coun. Scott Fielding, the chairman of the Winnipeg Police Board, said he has already brought the commercial to the attention of police Chief Devon Clunis, who will look into the issue.

"My concern is it gives the impression people with disabilities are left out," Fielding said.

"We know that isn't the case today. Look at the Paralympics and sledge hockey. People with disabilities have productive lives.

"I understand the shock value and wanting to get attention, but this leaves a perception that people with disabilities can't participate fully."

Staff Sgt. Rob Riffel, commander of the police central traffic unit, said police didn't intend to show what some call "a negative portrayal of people with disabilities."

"Now that we have been made aware, we are certainly sensitive to their concerns."

Riffel said the commercial was not pulled off the air -- a limited amount of airtime was purchased and that time had been used.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2014 B3

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