The Arc’s Letter to Gary Owen on his Comments Offensive to People with Disabilities

May 12, 2016
Dear Mr. Owen,

I am writing in regard to your Showtime Special “Agree with Myself”
and its flagrant mockery of people with intellectual and developmental
disabilities (I/DD). As the nation’s largest organization serving and advocating
with and for people with I/DD, with a network of more than 650 chapters across
the country, we’ve received many complaints about the content of this
program from people who are truly outraged. Having watched the offensive clip
myself, I felt compelled to contact you to voice our concerns.

The segment I am referring to includes you using the word ”retarded” to
describe your cousin with intellectual disabilities. People with I/DD have made
clear for decades that they consider the ”r-word” to be demeaning and don’t
accept it being used to describe them. They view it as analogous to the use of
the ”n-word” to describe a person who is black. For them it is a slap in the face
that reminds them of all the verbal and physical abuse and discrimination they
have experienced on a daily basis. What they want is respect.

In addition to the use of this slur, the content of your act, your antics
and the tone you took are equally unacceptable. Your sketch about your cousin,
her lover and her friends is demoralizing and attacks individuals with I/DD on
multiple levels, from their speech to their sexuality. You dehumanize them for
laughs, not taking into account the dark history individuals with disabilities have
faced in our nation. Individuals with disabilities have suffered through decades
of discrimination and humiliation including forced sterilization, abuse, and
institutionalization.

The fact of the matter is that your special contains callous verbal
violence against a minority group. I hope you can see that this goes beyond an
issue of an artist’s freedom of speech – this is hate speech. The Arc, Special
Olympics, dozens of other disability organizations, and thousands of advocates
across the country are united in our outrage that you and Showtime have failed
to pull this program from On Demand or edit out the offensive segment. We
hope you have dropped it from your live performances.

IVlr. Owen, perhaps you don’t understand that 85 percent of people
with I/DD are not employed, when they could be working but no one will hire
them. Or maybe you are unaware that people with disabilities are three times
more likely to be the victim of violent crimes and four times more likely to be
victims of sexual violence. Fifty-two percent of students with I/DD leave high
school without a regular diploma which greatly limits their prospects for
employment and post-secondary education. Public attitudes and lack of
understanding of people with I/DD, and lack of appreciation for their humanity,
is perhaps the single biggest reason for the challenges people with I/DD face in
being fully included, participating and being treated fairly in their communities.

You could have been part of the solution, as has your fellow comedian
Amy Schumer, but instead you contribute to the problem. Recently, 50 Cent
knew when to apologize after stepping over the line, why not you?

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter with you and to
introduce you to people with I/DD who are quite different from the caricature
you provided. As you tour the country in the coming months, we would be
happy to connect you with local chapters of The Arc that will arrange for you to
meet people with I/DD who are leading full lives in and are contributing to their
communities.

Sincerely,
Peter V. Berns
CEO, The Arc