By now, you may have heard the news:
A day after he was widely rebuked for mocking a reporter with a physical disability, business mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump on Thursday denied that he had done so and accused the reporter of “using his disability to grandstand.” Trump also demanded an apology from the New York Times, the reporter’s employer, which earlier in the week issued a statement condemning Trump for ridiculing “the appearance of one of our reporters.” The incident occurred Tuesday at a rally in South Carolina, as Trump was defending his recent claim that he had witnessed thousands of Muslims cheering in New Jersey on Sept. 11, 2001, as the World Trade Center towers collapsed. On stage, Trump berated Times investigative reporter Serge Kovaleski for his recent recollection of an article he wrote a few days after the attacks, which Trump has been citing to defend his claim. Trump appeared to mock Kovaleski’s physical condition; the reporter has arthrogryposis, which visibly limits flexibility in his arms. “Now, the poor guy — you’ve got to see this guy, ‘Ah, I don’t know what I said! I don’t remember!’ ” Trump said as he jerked his arms in front of his body.
If there is good to come of this embarrassing spectacle, it may be that Trump has at least focused attention on a disability many people may not know about or understand. Whether he realizes it or not, Trump has given the world a gift: a teachable moment.
So what exactly is arthrogryposis?
Arthrogryposis (arth-ro-grip-OH-sis) means a child is born with joint contractures. This means some of their joints don’t move as much as normal and may even be stuck in one position. Often the muscles around these joints are thin, weak, stiff or missing. Extra tissue may have formed around the joints, holding them in place. Most contractures happen in the arms and the legs. They can also happen in the jaw and the spine. Arthrogryposis does not occur on its own. It is a feature of many other conditions, most often amyoplasia. Children with arthrogryposis may have other health problems, such as problems with their nervous system, muscles, heart, kidneys or other organs, or differences in how their limbs, skull or face formed. This condition is also called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. “Arthrogryposis” means the joints are curved or crooked. “Multiplex” means it affects more than one joint. “Congenita” means the condition is present at birth. Arthrogryposis does not get worse over time. For most children, treatment can lead to big improvements in how they can move and what they can do. Most children with arthrogryposis have typical cognitive and language skills. Most have a normal life span. Most lead independent, fulfilling lives as adults. However, some need lifelong help with daily activities. Some walk, and others use a wheelchair. The main cause of arthrogryposis is fetal akinesia. This means the baby does not move around inside the womb as much as normal. Starting in early pregnancy, moving helps a baby’s joints, muscles and tendons develop. If a baby doesn’t move much, these parts may not develop well, and extra tissue may form in the joints, making movement harder.
Watch a trailer for a film about the condition below.