The Arc Responds to Offensive Use of R-Word on Fox News Program

Washington, DC – This week, on Fox News’ The Sean Hannity Show, a guest named Gavin McInnes made highly offensive comments, ridiculing civil rights leader Al Sharpton “as  retarded.”  Host Hannity interrupted McInnes chiming in, “you’re not allowed to say that word, it is politically incorrect,” at which point McInnes described Sharpton as, “seemingly similar to someone with Down syndrome.”   To make matters worse, in a later comment posted on YouTube, McInnes attempted to explain that he didn’t intend to demean people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) stating, “I was trying to say retards aren’t qualified to have their own news show.”  Referring to himself as “pro-retard,” he advised the mom of a child with Down syndrome to “get over that word soon.”

“It’s Gavin McInnes who needs to ‘get over’ outdated language that perpetuates stereotypes and fuels hatred in society.  The r-word is being banished from our lexicon because it’s hurtful to people with disabilities and their families, so why use it?

“McInnes’ assertion that people with I/DD don’t understand enough to be offended by language that is used in their presence is absolutely absurd.   Clearly, he has never met or talked with the many self-advocates who have led the fight to get the ‘r-word’ out of state and federal laws, let alone the many individuals with I/DD who recount stories about how they are taunted and bullied.  Language does matter.

“His assertion that people with low IQ can’t host a news show ignores their abilities.  Perhaps McInnes has never heard of Jason Kingsley, Chris Burke, or more recently, Lauren Potter on the hit show, Glee.  People with I/DD are a part of all our communities, going to school, working alongside people without disabilities, and living life to the fullest.  They are in the media, starring on hit television shows and in movies, and doing more to contribute to society than those that spread hate with their words.

“While McInnes, a self-styled provocateur, may aspire to be a regular on the Fox News network – clearly he failed the audition.  Hopefully, Fox News will know better than to give him a platform to spread the ignorance and disrespect he has for millions of people with disabilities and their families,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Social Security Administration Erases the “R-Word”

This week marks a great victory for people with disabilities across the United States.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that it will no longer use the term “mental retardation” and will instead use “intellectual disability” in its official Listing of Impairments and other regulations. SSA started this process in January, and their decision brings us one step closer to a policy world free of the R-word.

This victory comes less than three years after President Obama signed Rosa’s Law, which substituted the stigmatizing word with the terms “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability” in federal health, education, and labor policy statutes. The thousands of advocates who have spent decades working in the disability policy field know that change like this doesn’t come quickly or easily. However, once SSA decided to make a change, the agency was able to move from the initial public notice of proposed rulemaking to the final rule in just eight months.

SSA’s decision to use modern, respectful terminology will affect millions of children and adults with intellectual disability who over the course of their lives may need Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). It’s important to remember that this change will not alter who qualifies for benefits. SSA’s use of “intellectual disability” will not change whether an applicant will qualify for benefits, nor will it change current benefits for people who originally qualified for Social Security disability or SSI benefits with a diagnosis of “mental retardation.”

SSA’s announcement is all the more remarkable because SSA takes this step voluntarily. Rosa’s Law did not include Social Security or SSI, but SSA is making this change because it’s the right thing to do. The Arc and many other disability groups commented in support of this proposed change, which SSA first proposed in January 2013.

We know how powerful words are.  As Rosa Marcellino’s brother Nick said, “What you call people is how you treat them.” Words represent you and your viewpoint, and we can all be happy that SSA is taking a step to change the words being used in their official documents to better promote the civil rights of individuals with I/DD.  The R-word isn’t just a word, it is a stigmatizing term that the disability community has been fighting against for years, and this week we are a step closer to banishing it from our government and our society.

Why are celebrities still using the r-word?

In a newly released song, Jodeci Freestyle, artists Drake and J.Cole use the “r-word” and the term “autistic” as insults. I find it hard to believe that there is nothing else that will rhyme with “started”, aside from retarded. And using autistic in this manner is an insult to thousands of individuals on the autism spectrum who deserve respect. The context doesn’t matter, the use of both words is a slur that demeans individuals with disabilities – and that is unacceptable.

Words are a powerful thing, and sadly many influential people, like Drake and J.Cole, still fail to see the impact of their words. Rappers, actors, and any public figures have a responsibility to the people who admire them to choose their words wisely. There is no denying that both Drake and J.Cole are talented musicians, admired worldwide, which makes it even more important that they put thought into every word they use. Your choice in words is a reflection on you and your beliefs. Public figures or artists should not want to be connected to the ignorance and malice associated with the words that Drake and J.Cole chose to use.

Sadly, I am not shocked to hear that the r-word is being used in a rap song, but it doesn’t mean that I am not disappointed. The fact of the matter is that using language that was rejected by the people it was used to describe is a slur against them and shows blatant disrespect. We as a society should not allow language that diminishes another person’s value or insults them to be socially acceptable. I see this as an opportunity to educate more individuals, and hopefully educate Drake and J.Cole. Their fans are among the many who have already signed a petition condemning their language in this song. Hopefully, this petition will send a message to them that their choice in words is absolutely wrong, and their fans are paying attention.

Where Have You Been, Barbara Walters?

Barbara WaltersBy Mohan Mehra, Immediate Past President, The Arc of the United States Board of Directors, and Brian’s dad. Brian is a young man with Down syndrome.

Last week, Barbara Walters used her platform on “The View” to defend comedian Bill Maher when he used the “R” word to describe Sarah Palin’s five year old son, Trig, who has Down syndrome.  You can watch the clip on YouTube.

“I don’t think he intended to be mean spirited,” said Ms. Walters. Of course he did. Hiding behind jokes often becomes a form of bullying. We see it in schools, on the playing field, and in the media when celebrities who have a large platform like Mr. Maher are looking for a laugh or attention.

To excuse Maher due to possible “ignorance of the language” is unacceptable. He is a public figure, seeks the limelight in his public and private actions, and pleading ignorance does not fit his outspoken style. Where have you been, Bill Maher and Barbara Walters?

Historically, the “R” word was a clinical term used to describe people with an intellectual disability. Today, society uses it as an insult or to degrade people with intellectual disabilities. A recent survey of youth age 8-18 done by Special Olympics and the University of Massachusetts showed that 63% said that they felt bad for the person being picked on and only 9% of the youth said that they laughed or did not care. Where have you been, Barbara Walters?

In 2010, both houses of Congress unanimously passed, and the President signed Rosa’s Law, a bill that removes the “R” word from all federal health, education and labor policy and replaces it with “intellectual disability.” Nick, Rosa’s eleven year old brother said during the hearings, “What you call my sister is how you will treat her…. It invites taunting, stigma and bullying.” Words are mere vessels for meaning. Where have you been, Barbara Walters?

In our culture, the media enjoys a special status. With over 3 million viewers of “The View”, and a large following on social media, Ms. Walters has a large platform to inform and educate, in addition to entertain. It would indeed be fitting that in the memory of her sister, Jackie, who had an intellectual disability, she calls out such use of the “R’” word as hurtful and insulting to people with intellectual disabilities and their families.

The Arc Reacts to Baltimore Ravens Quarterback Using R-Word in Super Bowl Press Conference

Washington, DC – Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who will play in the Super Bowl this Sunday, used the “r-word” in a press conference last night.  In response to a question unrelated to people with disabilities, Flacco used the offensive term and followed by acknowledging that he shouldn’t use the word.  While The Arc appreciates Mr. Flacco’s quick acknowledgment of his mistake, The Arc invites him to get involved in the national dialogue on why this language is offensive and provide leadership on this issue after the Super Bowl.

“All eyes are on the players competing in this weekend’s Super Bowl, and unfortunately, while under this media microscope, Joe Flacco used a hurtful word to people with disabilities.  After Super Bowl XLVII is in the history books, The Arc would welcome Mr. Flacco in the national dialogue about why this word is offensive to people with disabilities and what fans can do to help us remove the word from our society,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc is a part of the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign along with other organizations to raise awareness of the effects of the “r-word”.  The Arc has also been involved in efforts to remove the word from federal health, education and labor statutes, supporting Rosa’s Law in 2010.  And just this week, the Social Security Administration announced its intent to remove the word from its work.

One Step Closer to Erasing the R-word

This week marks a great victory for disability advocates across the country.  The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) announcement of its proposal to stop using the term “mental retardation” and start using “intellectual disability” in its official Listing of Impairments and other regulations, is a victory larger than it may seem to many.  This decision brings us one step closer to a world free of the R-word.

Just think, this victory comes just over two years after President Obama signed Rosa’s Law, which substituted the stigmatizing word with the terms “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability” in federal health, education, and labor policy statutes.  Some might think two years is a long time, but the thousands of advocates like me who have spent decades working in the disability policy field know that change like this doesn’t come quickly or easily.

Today’s announcement is all the more remarkable because SSA takes this step voluntarily. Rosa’s Law did not specifically include Social Security or Supplemental Security Income, but SSA is making this change because it’s the right thing to do.

We know how powerful words are.  Words also represent you and your viewpoint, and we can all be happy that SSA is taking a step to change the words being used in their official documents to better promote the civil rights of individuals with I/DD.  The R-word isn’t just a word, it is a stigmatizing term that the disability community has been fighting against for years, and this week we are a step closer to banishing it from our government and our society.

But it’s not over yet – we need your help to keep the momentum going!

SSA will not be able to finalize this change until it goes through the rulemaking process required of all federal agencies.  SSA issued its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to stop using the R-word on Monday, January 28th.  The public has 30 days to comment – and SSA needs to hear from you!

Please visit the Federal eRulemaking portal at regulations.gov.  Use the Search function to find docket number SSA-2012-0066 and then submit comments in support of ending the R-word. Comments are due on February 27, 2013.

The Arc Applauds Social Security Administration’s Ending the Use of the “R-word”

Washington, DC – In an historic change for people with intellectual disabilities (ID), the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced its intent to stop using the phrase “mental retardation” and start using “intellectual disability” in its official Listing of Impairments.

This change, which The Arc and many other organizations advocated for, comes a little over two years after President Barack Obama signed Rosa’s Law.  In 2010, The Arc was very involved in efforts to end the use of the “r-word” and worked to enact Rosa’s Law, which substituted the stigmatizing word with the terms “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability” in federal health, education, and labor policy statutes.  While the legislation did not cover programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, it was an important stepping stone for shaping future legislation and efforts that will transform these outdated terms in all federal laws.  The Social Security Administration’s actions are a welcome result of the success of Rosa’s Law.

“Changing how we talk about people with disabilities is a critical step in promoting and protecting their basic civil and human rights.  This is an important moment for people with disabilities because Social Security is a lifeline to so many – it allows people with ID to live in their communities and be as independent as possible.  And now, the language the agency uses will reflect the respect people with ID deserve,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The proposed regulation published today has a 30 day comment period, and we encourage people to submit comments in support of the proposed regulation online by February 27, 2013.

Why are We Still Talking About the R-Word?

Sadly, people of all walks of life are still using it.  The most recent heinous example came from conservative commentator Ann Coulter last night, when she not only used it in a tweet, she referred to the President of the United States with the word.  That’s wrong on two levels – one – the r-word has no place in our society, and two – the office of the President deserves more respect no matter who occupies it.

Words are powerful.  While the r-word may not have the same emotion and meaning behind it to everyone, it’s a hurtful, disrespectful, and unacceptable word to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  And that’s enough to remove it from the national dialogue.

The Arc is part of a large, national effort to “end the word” and we encourage you to talk to your friends, neighbors, coworkers, family – really, anyone you cross paths with – and educate them about why this word is so wrong.  The r-word has no place in politics or any other social or professional setting.  We need you to spread the word to end the word!

Join us in this fight – because with your help, we CAN end it!

The R Word – Take Action to Continue to Fight to End the Word

Spread the Word to End the WordThe Arc is continuing our efforts to end the use of the R-word, and unfortunately our work is not done.  The latest instance of the use of the word was on the website of a Florida radio station.  Not only was the station using this inappropriate language, but they were using a photo of a person with a disability without permission.

The Arc has a zero tolerance policy for using the R word, and as members of our movement, we always encourage you to get involved to put a stop to the use of the word and educate people about why it is hurtful.  The Arc is a part of the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign, and we want you to add your voice online via their efforts on Twitter and Facebook.

What You Can Do

And you can go further, by encouraging your friends and neighbors to get involved with The Arc at the local, state, and national level.  The larger our movement, the louder our voice.

Reflections on Tracy Morgan, Other Celebrities and the “R-Word”

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.