Stop the hate speech: r-word dot org

21 Mar

The Special Olympics have started a media campaign, including a website, to help eliminate the “r-word” (retard) from common speech.

I couldn’t say it better than they do on their website:

Most people don’t think of this word as hate speech, but that’s exactly what it feels like to millions of people with intellectual disabilities, their families and friends. This word is just as cruel and offensive as any other slur.

r-word.org

I am very glad to see the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) as one of the supporting organizations for this campaign.

In the last couple of years, there have been a few very prominent uses of the “r-word” in the media. I found it very unfortunate that many in the autism community argued, “our kids aren’t retarded” rather than calling it out as the hate-speech it is.

This campaign appears to be getting a lot of publicity due to a misstep by President Obama on the Tonight Show. From the CNN story:

He told Leno that he bowled 129 in the White House bowling alley and said his bowling skills are “like Special Olympics or something.”

Mr. Obama moved quickly to apologize,

The comment during the taping of the show prompted Obama to pick up the phone on Air Force One and call Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver to preemptively apologize for the remark before it hit television screens. He also reportedly invited Special Olympic athletes to Pennsylvania Avenue to hit the lanes and give him tips or shoot some hoops.

The president “expressed his heartfelt and sincere commitment to work with our athletes and make this country a more accepting place for people with special needs,” Lum, the organization’s president, said.

Thank you, Mr. Obama.

I would really like to find a bigger version of the print-ad used for the r-word campaign.  Here is the small version on the CNN website.  It says it pretty darned well.

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29 Responses to “Stop the hate speech: r-word dot org”

  1. Kev March 21, 2009 at 16:09 #

    Great post Sully 🙂

    There is also a Facebook event set up for this. Please attend if you’re a FB member. I hope this is something that can transgress all autism blog politics.

  2. Sullivan March 21, 2009 at 16:13 #

    Here’s an example of domain sqatters embarassing themselves.

    http://domainnamewire.com/2009/03/20/special-olympics-the-r-word-and-one-embarassing-domain-name/

  3. FreeeSpeaker March 21, 2009 at 19:19 #

    Good post. However, it is not just a word, but an instituionalized attitude that needs to be addressed.

    Most people think that handicapped sports is merely “cute.” Far from it.

    My son was the pen-ultimate torch bearer in the USA for the 2000 Sydney Paraolympics. Was there any media coverage? Heck no.

    One may ask when and where the Paraolympics are held? Most people do not know.

    The answer is simple, immediately following the Olympics on the same venue. Paraolympians have it easier, though. Smaller non-crowds, and those pesky cameras and media types just do not clutter up the landscape.

    Every marathon in the US has three divisions, male, female and wheelchair. Do the winners of all three get invited to the Monday morning talk shows?

    New York State sponsors The empire State Parks Games for the Physically Challenged at a world class facility (thank you Ted Turner for the now defunct Friendship Games). Come on down! No pesky media types toget in your way. Just 1500 athletes from the region and Ireland competing.

    As for Obama’s remark, it is merely an example of non-thinking. It is nothing new.

    BTW my son’s bowling average is higher than Obama’s.

  4. Ed March 21, 2009 at 21:47 #

    “Good post. However, it is not just a word, but an instituionalized attitude that needs to be addressed.”

    That’s what I was thinking. I can’t think of any recent US presidents who don’t seem to have the same attitude about this although they may not have gotten caught expressing them so clearly in public.

    We should expect better, we should make noise when the ugly attitudes are expressed and work to change them but as you say, it’s not isolated and not new.

  5. Lavendr March 21, 2009 at 23:41 #

    maybe i’m naieve, but in NZ it think most people would see “retard” as unacceptable as the rest of the words on that poster.

    Does “mentally retarded” still exist as a formal diagnosis/categorisation? Then there’s a real problem right there as most people won’t appreciate the semantic difference between an adjective and a noun (and I’m not sure the adjective is any better). But if you’ve got official endorsement of the adjectival phrase, then surely it’s harder to erradicate the noun?

  6. feebee March 22, 2009 at 04:08 #

    http://adsoftheworld.com/taxonomy/brand/special_olympics has larger res versions.

  7. feebee March 22, 2009 at 04:08 #

    Oh, and the comments on those ads at the site I linked are atrocious. Just a warning.

  8. Kent March 22, 2009 at 15:05 #

    No one has pointed up that the Special Olympics is using the same firm that NYU used for the Ransom Notes campaign. I wish that BBDO would include other faces other than Down Syndrome. Using just Down Syndrome faces projects that just DS folks are the only ones subject to this word, which would be unfortunate if that becomes conventional wisdom. Otherwise, I liked the ads.

  9. Sullivan March 22, 2009 at 15:22 #

    Lavendr,

    Mental Retardation is still used in the US, but people are moving towards Intellectual Disability. For example, a very old journal just this year changed its name from Journal of Mental Retardation to Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

  10. farmwifetwo March 22, 2009 at 20:07 #

    So then, how long until you demand they ban the words “intellectual disabilities”?? Banning words does not deal with the true issues of a lack of services, education and disability dollars.

    Where’s those campaigns?? Or do the Aspies not like being lumped in with those on the lower end of the scale??

    Personally I hope they are removed from the ASD spectrum in 2010, them and the NLD’s… which will remove one of mine too… and IMO be better in the long run for his “severe” younger bro.

    S

  11. Kev March 22, 2009 at 23:26 #

    So then, how long until you demand they ban the words “intellectual disabilities”?? Banning words does not deal with the true issues of a lack of services, education and disability dollars.

    No FW2 it doesn’t. But this isn’t what that campaign is about. This campaign is about illustrating that words matter. That is a true issue as well. If you feel desperately strongly about these other things why don’t you stop moaning about it and start your own campaign about them?

  12. Sullivan March 23, 2009 at 00:05 #

    So then, how long until you demand they ban the words “intellectual disabilities”?? Banning words does not deal with the true issues of a lack of services, education and disability dollars.

    The “r-word” has become pejorative. That has tainted the entire term “mental retardation”.

    Unless, “ID” or “Intellectually Disabled” becomes a school-yard taunt, I don’t see people working on reducing the use of those terms.

    By the way, people aren’t saying “ban” language. They are saying that it is time to raise awareness to the point that people realize that the term is hurtful.

    Where’s those campaigns?? Or do the Aspies not like being lumped in with those on the lower end of the scale??

    A great use of hurtful language. Inaccurate as well.

    Personally I hope they are removed from the ASD spectrum in 2010, them and the NLD’s… which will remove one of mine too… and IMO be better in the long run for his “severe” younger bro.

    If the conditions are related, then it isn’t what is “better” for one segment. It’s about what is accurate and what can help provide better understanding.

  13. The Gonzo Girl March 23, 2009 at 01:37 #

    farmwifetwo = really annoying repetitive troll.

  14. Ed March 23, 2009 at 01:59 #

    🙂 and in addition to The Gonzo Girl’s accurate appraisal:

    The separation of functioning levels high vs. low with regards to intellectual impairments has always been used to encourage the belief of scarcity of funds and prevent the better understanding of individual needs.

    The in-fighting it causes serves to reduce what is claimed to be *extra* cost and supports the status quo fear mongering.

    Adding clarity and empathy (which the campaign can do)for how these school-yard taunts (which figuratively speaking includes where immature adults play) will change attitudes and bad attitudes are the #1 contributor to how services,education, and disability dollars continue to suffer from lack of funding and lack of understanding real needs.

  15. Ed March 23, 2009 at 02:03 #

    immature adults who use slang put-downs like retard are the figurative playground I mean.

  16. HCN March 23, 2009 at 02:30 #

    Actually, I hope things improve for farmwife2 soon. I kind of remember her as posting much nicer and insightful posts on the old AutismVox.

    Sometimes things just don’t work out well. Presently my son is on academic probation, and it looks like the Dept. of Vocational Rehabilitation is failing him. This is in addition to not qualifying for the Dept. of Developmental Disabilities. He is falling through the cracks because he is both to able, and still very learning disabled.

    She is very correct when she says “Banning words does not deal with the true issues of a lack of services, education and disability dollars.”

    Except that things would be helped if young adults like my son did not have to hear about their deficits with terms like “retard” in the literature. It was bad enough in middle school, we don’t need it to be splayed all over the popular culture.

  17. Regan March 23, 2009 at 03:08 #

    Targential segue
    FreeeSpeaker said,
    One may ask when and where the Paraolympics are held? Most people do not know.
    Thanks for sharing about your son being a torchbearer.

    You’re probably right that most people don’t know, although I noticed in some press releases there was a larger push by the Beijing hosts to have media coverage and webcasting of the Games this year.
    (I tuned in to find out how Kendall Bailey (U.S., physical and cognitive disability) did in the 100m. breaststroke.)

    What is/is there/could there be overlap between the elite athletes of the Special Olympics and those of the Paralympics? I wondered, because the NYTimes story of the difficulties encountered by Mr. Bailey in making the Paralympic team because of his cognitive disability, even with a qualifying time at a regular qualifying meet, made me think not at this time.

    Not meant to hijack the thread, just wondered if any one knew?

  18. Joseph March 23, 2009 at 14:28 #

    So then, how long until you demand they ban the words “intellectual disabilities”??

    Yes, when and if “intellectual disability” becomes an insult, it will be phased out, and we will demand it. That’s the right thing to do.

    The same thing has happened throughout history. How do you think the words “idiot” and “imbecile” came about?

  19. RobinHausmanMorris March 23, 2009 at 15:47 #

    Barack Obama is President of the United States of America. He is human. He can make a mistake. He made a mistake on Jay Leno, referring to his bowling expertise as “special olympics”. Now fix it, really fix it!
    Our son, who is 21 and has autism was mimicked in High School. A young man who received perfect SAT board scores made fun of our child with autism. Everyone witnessed the joke, except our son. One brave student reported the harassment to my daughter. When I approached the mother of the guilty boy her reply was “oh, not my son, you must be mistaken”…..She was sadly shocked when the charge was corroborated.

    I reiterate my caveat. President Obama, get in front of a camera and publicly say you made a mistake. The White House press should not speak for you in this case, neither should Tim Shriver.Then enlighten the world that the best thing that they can do about special olympics or special education or special people is to make an effort to understand . Awareness is key!

    Last year I wrote about the bigotry in the film Tropic Thunder . I cringed at references to the “R” word. Comedian Chris Rock, whose pre-election monologue on Saturday Night Live, was highly offensive. He talked about the notion of having a minority in the White House (either a woman or an Afro American); his response was that “we already do have a minority in the White House, a retard.” I ask how was this okay? Was it because the general public was disgruntled with Bush? Should a political satire mock innocent human beings? Why should a population of people who cannot defend themselves be the brunt of that joke? Where was Lorne Michaels, producer of SNL? Where was NBC? There was no outrage, no CNN coverage, no blame.

    Do we, as a nation contour our responses to politically correct “nouns du jour”? Does the movie industry stretch poetic license for financial gain? You betcha, because in this world “money talks, nobody walks”, and if the hype for Tropic Thunder induced ticket sales, it’s a win win.

    Now, if some of those proceeds would be donated to autism research, my judge and jury would deem that the quintessential community service!

  20. Billy Cresp March 23, 2009 at 16:45 #

    This campaign against the legitimate word retard is going to do absolutely nothing for anyone intellectually disabled. It likely won’t get a lot more people to stop using the word, as these backlashes are usually taunted at and are usually seen as nothing more than “political correctness” whining. The ones involved in this campaign know this but have a different agenda.

    Even if the word retard was banned and if people lost the inclination over time to use it, and was replaced by a euphemism like intellectual disability, eventually there may be people using that phrase in an insulting way. I heard that the word retard itself was picked as a euphemism. It doesn’t make any sense to get rid of a word because it’s misused as an insult, when it still has a legitimate meaning.

    I also detest the likely intentions of such euphemisms to obscure away from the underlying unfortunate meaning of the word. I’m sick of organizations such as the ASAN grandstanding like this with this pointless unnecessary hysteria, while they get almost nothing valuable done.

  21. RobinHausmanMorris March 23, 2009 at 19:06 #

    *I tried to post earlier, but it “froze”

    Barack Obama is President of the United States of America. He is human. He can make a mistake. He made a mistake on Jay Leno, referring to his bowling expertise as “special olympics”. Now fix it, really fix it!
    It is time for a public apology: “I was nervous, I was pumped on Leno, I was giddy, I was foolish”…..all of the above. Obama needs to take air time to specify what he is going to do about his inappropriate words. Tim Shriver’s acceptance means zilch, nada, nothing. It is not his choice.

    Our son, who is 21 was mimicked in High School. A young man who received perfect SAT board scores made fun of our child with autism. Everyone witnessed the joke, except our son. One brave student reported the harassment to my daughter. When I approached the mother of the guilty boy her reply was “oh, not my son, you must be mistaken”…..She was sadly shocked when the charge was corroborated.

    A president can change thinking, by example.

    I reiterate my caveat. President Obama, get in front of a camera and publicly say you made a mistake. The White House press should not speak for you in this case, neither should Tim Shriver.Then enlighten the world that the best thing that they can do about special olympics or special education or special people is to make an effort to understand . Awareness is key!

    Last year I wrote about the bigotry in the film Tropic Thunder . I cringed at references to the “R” word. Comedian Chris Rock, whose pre-election monologue on Saturday Night Live, was highly offensive. He talked about the notion of having a minority in the White House (either a woman or an Afro American); his response was that “we already do have a minority in the White House, a retard.” I ask how was this okay? Was it because the general public was disgruntled with Bush? Should a political satire mock innocent human beings? Why should a population of people who cannot defend themselves be the brunt of that joke? Where was Lorne Michaels, producer of SNL? Where was NBC? There was no outrage, no CNN coverage, no blame.

    Do we, as a nation contour our responses to politically correct “nouns du jour”? Does the movie industry stretch poetic license for financial gain? You betcha, because in this world “money talks, nobody walks”, and if the hype for Tropic Thunder induced ticket sales, it’s a win win.

    Now, if some of those proceeds would be donated to autism research, my judge and jury would deem that the quintessential community service!

  22. Sullivan March 23, 2009 at 19:30 #

    ASAN lobbied for adult services research in the IACC strategic plan. Good effort, good cause, in my book.

    I don’t agree that such efforts will have no effect. I know a number of terms for race or sexual orientation that were basically accepted speech when I was young that are not now (at least where I live).

    One big problem with the r-word is that it taints what was a legitimate term, mental retardation. As noted above (and previously on this blog) at least one journal has gone so far as to change its name, partly to avoid this stigma.

  23. Billy Cresp March 23, 2009 at 20:00 #

    It doesn’t seem pragmatic to push for adult services, and for research into such services, in the IACC, which wasn’t really designed for services. If that action wasn’t more of an attempt to cut into curative research, I think a realistic method to ensure services would have been done, like to deal with the bureaucracy that isn’t providing the effective services that already exist, and to petition the government for better funding and spreading, and actual providing of services.

    I don’t think terms for race and sexual orientation are comparable to terms for mental disability. I don’t think tainting of the term can be dealt with by abandoning the term. I think it’s practical to openly discuss the term’s meaning and address its misuse, and to make sure it’s used in its original, legitimate way.

  24. notime4idiots March 23, 2009 at 21:05 #

    Maybe I am naive too – I have never heard a british person use the word retard to describe a person, whether as an insult os misguidedly. We do however have an issue with people calling indviduals with DS “a downs” or still using “Mong” without even knowing what it means or where it came from.

    The issue and solution is not to ban individual words but to improve understanding so people can choose which words to use and wich not too.

    It is very difficult for those of us not working in this field or living with these problems to know what is acceptable and what wil offend.

    I think there needs to be more discrimination between language and meaning/intent. The use of the wrong word doesn’t always mean one is an ignorant obnoxious biggot.

  25. Kev March 23, 2009 at 21:34 #

    Maybe I am naive too – I have never heard a british person use the word retard to describe a person, whether as an insult os misguidedly.

    Sadly, I have. Once or twice directed toward my autistic child.

    I think its important to remember that no one is talking about banning the word ‘retard’ – it has a legitimate use. But then so does ‘fag’ (over here it is slang for a cigarette).

    This campaign is to try and highlight the word ‘retard’ in its current slang usage as a derogatory term directed towards those with a learning based disability. Just as the phrase (common in my grandfathers time) ‘he works like a nigger’ is utterly unacceptable, the phrase ‘thats retarded’ should be unacceptable.

  26. Kev March 23, 2009 at 21:36 #

    I don’t think terms for race and sexual orientation are comparable to terms for mental disability.

    I do.

    When any term is used in a derogatory way to belittle or reinforce a false view, that term should be challenged and its use questioned.

  27. RobinHausmanMorris March 23, 2009 at 21:51 #

    A friend reminded me that “words are like toothpaste, once they are out, you can’t pull them back in”
    What to do with a gaff or blunder is the operative question. Making a mistake is compounded by a “so what” attitude. People don’t like to be told they are wrong. Apologies are often simply word service.
    Action does speak louder.

  28. Sullivan March 24, 2009 at 00:48 #

    Billy Cresp:

    The IACC is not an agency to distribute services. However, it is a group to coordinate research. Finding out how services should be tailored for adults with autism is well within it’s purview.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Whitterer on Autism » Blog Archive » Stop the R word - March 21, 2009

    […] Stop the hate speech: r-word dot org […]

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