June 1, 1984

An Open Letter to NASA

JAMA. 1984;251(21):2805. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03340450025018

In October 1983, James Watt made his now infamous remark concerning a federal coal-leasing commission composed of a black, a Jew, two women, and a cripple. As a quadriplegic physician, my initial reaction was similar to those of many other Americans: I was mildly offended yet pleased to know that such a diverse group of people was participating in the democratic process.

I was most disturbed by the reference to a disabled person as a cripple. It is tough enough to resume useful work when friends and colleagues are doing their best to help you. How tough would it be if your associates merely tolerated you? After having time to reflect on the subject, I began to find Watt's remarks less offensive and actually inspirational.

It occurred to me that America's pride, the space shuttle, has been shared by black Americans, female Americans, and even the people of West Germany.