The Arc Calls Out LeBron James for Offensive Language

On Friday night, at a post-playoff game press conference, LeBron James used an offensive word to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. The video of his comment was posted widely online, and quickly caught the attention of the media and The Arc’s national office. The Arc’s CEO, Peter Berns, released this comment to the media:

“LeBron James should apologize immediately. No matter the context, this language is very offensive to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, and an athlete admired by kids everywhere should recognize the power of his actions and words.”

LeBron James began his next press conference with an apology.

We want to hear your take on this issue – when sports figures or celebrities use language that some find offensive, do they have a responsibility to apologize?

Let us know in the comments.

Joint Statement of Disability Leaders

We came here today to meet with Rahm Emanuel and share with him our view on the importance and impact of language. We wanted to invite Mr. Emanuel and all of America to understand the collective efforts of our community to remove the words “retard” and “retarded” from everyday speech.

The R-word is polluting our language. Every day our community hears this word – in schools and workplaces, in print and in movies, on radio and television. And every day they suffer its
dehumanizing effects – mockery, stigma, ridicule. This is a word that is incredibly damaging – not only to the seven million people with intellectual disabilities, but also their friends, family and to all of us.

We are thankful to Mr. Emanuel for meeting with us today and hearing our concerns. He sincerely apologized for his mistake and the pain it caused in our community.

We are happy that he will join more than 54,000 other Americans in pledging to end the use of the R-word at www.r-word.org, and that he committed that the administration would continue to look for ways to partner with us, including examining pending legislation in Congress to remove the R-word from federal law.

Our community has earned the right to be respected instead of ridiculed. We have suffered injustice for generations and we are demanding that it end.

This is another small step on the road to a country that accepts the gifts of all.

Julie Petty, Ricardo Thornton, Hannah Jacobs, Andy Imparato, Peter Berns, Tim Shriver

The Arc Invited to White House Meeting on ‘the R-word’

Washington, D.C. – The Arc of the United States (The Arc) has been invited to join a meeting at the White House today with other disabilities rights advocates to discuss the controversy around White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s use of “the r-word.”

Peter V. Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc, wrote a letter to Rahm Emanuel pressing for White House support of Rosa’s Law. This legislation would change the term “mental retardation” or “mentally retarded” to “intellectual disabilities” in several federal statutes such as education and employment laws.

WHO: Peter V. Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc; Andy Imparato, American Association of People with Disabilities; Hannah Jacobs, parent; Julie Petty, self-advocate; Tim Shriver, Special Olympics; and Ricardo Thornton, self-advocate.

WHAT: Meeting with disabilities advocates to discuss Chief of Staff’s use of “the r-word.”

WHEN: TODAY, Wednesday, February 03, 2010 at 2:00 p.m.

The Arc Condemns White House Aides Use of ‘R-Word’

Washington, DC–Reports that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel used an epithet relating to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is both shocking and disappointing.

According to a Wall Street Journal story on an embattled White House, “Some attendees said they were planning to air ads attacking conservative Democrats who were balking at Mr. Obama’s health-care overhaul. ‘F—ing retarded,’ Mr. Emanuel scolded the group, according to several participants.” We hope that the Members of Congress in that meeting were equally offended.

This is the second serious verbal miscue by the Administration about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. President Obama’s unfortunate statement last year on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, equating his poor bowling performance with that of people with intellectual disabilities, sparked justifiable outrage from people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. The President subsequently apologized for his remarks and disabilities advocates saw it as a teachable moment. Mr. Emanuel’s use of hateful language would suggest that it is the White House staff that needs to be taught a lesson in respect for people with disabilities.

Statements such as these—particularly when used by someone at high level—amplifies pervasive societal attitudes that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities somehow don’t measure up—that their lives are worth less. “Using a slur about people with intellectual disabilities to criticize other people just isn’t right,” said Peter V. Berns, chief executive officer of The Arc of the United States. “For people with disabilities it is disrespectful and demeaning and only serves to marginalize a constituency that already struggles for empowerment on every front,” Berns added.

Disability rights advocates had high hopes for this Administration when the President appointed a Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy. This was a move that the Administration called: “our first step to ensure that we have a strong advocate for people with disabilities at the highest levels of our Administration.”

The more than seven million individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families demand an apology for Mr. Emanuel’s use of language that denigrates our constituency. The White House needs to lead by example and demonstrate through words and actions that it is not acceptable to use people with disabilities as a source for ridicule. To condone this language is to deny opportunities for people with disabilities in the workplace, in the community, in school, and in every other quarter of society.

The Arc of the United States strongly supports legislation (S.2781) introduced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland that would change the term “mental retardation” or “mentally retarded” to “intellectual disabilities.” Given the two White House incidents of inappropriate use of the term regarding these constituencies, The Arc hopes that the Obama Administration will put its full force behind the enactment of this legislation.