With social media enabling us to stay connected and engaged with communities around the world, the words of individuals, celebrities, and authors can very quickly be spread and deemed acceptable without question simply because we are on the receiving end of too many messages. And when celebrities and entertainment mediums are the messengers, they often rise to the top of our overloaded brains, even when they disseminate derogatory phrases that offend and belittle members of our society.
Although we have made so much progress in removing the ‘r-word’ from our society, some in Hollywood just don’t seem to get it, as we see in the new Universal Pictures movie “The Change-Up.” The kind of language used is hurtful to so many who sit in the theaters thinking they are in store for entertainment, not insult. Words matter, and the film industry needs to learn that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families find this kind of language to be totally unacceptable.
GQ is another recent offender, with a July 15 article by author John B. Thompson reviewing fashion in the United States titled, “40 Worst-Dressed Cities in America.” The article described Boston, MA as number one saying, “Due to so much local inbreeding, Boston suffers from a kind of Style Down Syndrome, where a little extra ends up ruining everything.” This language has since been removed online, but an explanation from the magazine or apology from the author has not been issued.
The only way to stop offensive language like this is to continue working together to express what these words actually mean. Stand up and be heard! Contact both GQ and Universal Pictures about their offensive comments about individuals with Down syndrome:
This isn’t a question of free speech; this is about respecting people with I/DD and understanding that words are powerful, especially when they are coming from sources that are viewed by millions of people worldwide.
This week, when The Arc staff learned of Tracy Morgan’s comments in a recent comedy show in New York City, we knew we had to respond. Not because we are against free speech – as an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we wholeheartedly support freedom of speech and other constitutional rights. We responded because we don’t like to see hateful, hurtful speech aimed at people with disabilities.
Tracy Morgan is a very successful comedian who made a joke that he thought was funny in the moment, and certainly anyone has a right to laugh at whatever jokes he or she wants. Some people think we’re being oversensitive, and that’s understandable. Mr. Morgan has more leeway because of what he does – making people laugh – and that means he pushes boundaries and social norms. We can appreciate that, but what we don’t think he realized is that the language he used is hurtful to many, many people. And it’s The Arc’s job to stand up for them.
This isn’t about free speech, defining comedy or free publicity as much as it’s about making sure society treats people with disabilities with respect.
In the last year, we’ve called out NBA star LeBron James and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel for using similar language. And each time, it has sparked a lively conversation about free speech and human rights. We’re thrilled to be a part of this debate because these public figures (and everyone else in the conversation) can share with all of society why the “r-word” and other derogatory terms directed at people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not okay.
People have a right to express themselves. And we at The Arc can take a joke, but we are compelled to stand up when it crosses into territory that hurts the people we represent.
Dr. Temple Grandin
You might need sunglasses to attend The Arc’s National Convention in Denver this September. We’re bringing serious star power to the stage with major wattage coming from Hollywood and the intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD) sector.
First up is Dr. David Braddock, a major star in the I/DD community as head of the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities and the driving force behind the “State of the States in Developmental Disabilities” which offers insight into crucial public policy issues. Dr. Braddock has just updated this vital report for 2011 and will share his thoughts on where we stand on disability policy today.
Plus, Lauren Potter from the hit TV show GLEE will be on hand to present this year’s Image and Inclusion Award for accurate and positive portrayals of I/DD in the media. Lauren, who has Down syndrome, is not only a talented actress but has recently become a very visible spokesperson for the I/DD movement. She filmed a compelling PSA for Spread the Word to End the Word campaign against the “r” word with her co-star Jane Lynch and has spoken out against bullying. She was recently in Washington, D.C. with The Arc to help us publicly release the results of the landmark FINDS (Family and Individual Needs for Disability Support) survey and taped a special message to close our newest PSA currently airing across the country.
Finally, Convention attendees will be treated to a keynote presentation from best-selling author and noted animal scientist Dr. Temple Grandin, who has autism. Dr. Grandin’s life and work was the subject of a popular 2010 HBO biopic starring Clarie Danes. The film was highly-praised and recognized with Emmys, Golden Globes and a Peabody Award.
As you can see, it’s an all-star lineup so grab your autograph book and make your reservations now for The Arc’s National Convention September 16-19 in Denver, CO.