Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mean Girl - Ann Coulter and Her Obsession With Using the R-Word

One of the things that angers me the most about the use of the R-Word is that people with disabilities know what it means and the word gets bandied about as if they do not.  

I read about Ms. Coulter's use of the word last week in a tweet about a video the president made for the National Forum on Disability Issues: "Been busy, but is Obama STILL talking about that video? I had no idea how crucial the retarded vote is in this election." 

Ann Coulter

It pains me to feed the beast (ie: her ego) and discuss her a public forum and I chose to ignore her first comment because living in Ohio means we are saturated from sun up to sun down with television ads, mailers, phone calls and people ringing our door bell to persuade us who to vote for in the presidential election this year.  The last thing I wanted to do was to provide another forum for Ms. Coulter to gain any additional attention.

Then she tweeted this following the presidential debate last night, "I highly approve of Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard." 

The more I think about it, perhaps we should actually be thanking Ms. Coulter for bringing the horrible use of the R-word to light for more people to discuss and understand.  Actually, yes-- I do thank her for that.  I thank her for showing what bullies sound like.

I thank her for opening up a national discussion on a topic that is so very near and dear to me so that I can somehow try to help encourage the world to be a more accepting, educated and aware place for individuals with disabilities (not just Down syndrome like Joey, but all disabilities) to live in. 

In 2010 Congress banned the use of the words "retard" and "retardation" in federal health, education and labor laws and now favors using the term "intellectual disability."  By 2013 the American Psychiatric Association will also replace "mental retardation" with "intellectual development disorder" in the 5th version of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 

Ms. Coulter-- having a son who has an intellectual disability means that not only do we have to help show the world everything he CAN do, but it also means proving to the world that outdated slurs that paint an incredibly wide brush of misconception are not accurate.  Our son has had open heart surgery, eye surgery, ear surgery and is preparing for another eye surgery on Friday, the last thing in this world that he needs to battle is ignorance and hatred from people who have a public pedestal.  To be completely honest, we have enough on our plates as does Joey and having to continually fight to change ignorance is a battle we wish we had more time for.  For Joey, everything he does take extra hard work, effort, devotion, struggle, and heart.  From learning sign language to learning to sit up to learning to crawl and to someday learning to talk and walk, he has to pour every single ounce of himself into it and we try to do the same. The pride we feel as parents is beyond any love that I ever imagined possible. I wonder what Ms. Coulter's parents think about her approach to the world right now?

As Ellen Seidman writes on her blog Love That Max:

Most people would never call a kid with cognitive disabilities a "retard" to his face (and if you are a person who would do that, step away from this blog and go search for your soul). If you wouldn't say the word to my child because you know it's offensive, you should avoid using it elsewhere, too. Either way, it's demeaning.Either way, it hurts my child.

As disgusting and hateful as Ms. Coulter's remarks are, I am in awe with the response that others in the entertainment industry are tweeting and as Joey's parent and as an advocate, I thank them each for using their voice for good and not evil-- as reported on E Online:

"@AnnCoulter You disgust me," tweetedSophia Bush. "That man is the president of this country. (& I'm sure all of the disabled children in America appreciate you.)"
Comedian Patton Oswalt also responded,posting, "Ann Coulter died of prostate cancer in 2002. Her Twitter account's a sentient emu skeleton with a swatch of eyelid skin stretched over it." He later added: "If Ann Coulter's calling the President a 'retard' it means he won/is going to win. She's our un-pettable Punxsutawney Phil."
Holly Robinson Peete also spoke up, writing: "As a mom of a son with autism the words Retard or retarded are like nails on a chalkboard. A lot of people say it benignly esp kids...So when a grown woman deliberately uses it publicly over and over you just have to wonder if there is a chip missing ya know?"
Singer Michelle Branch tweeted as well, saying, "I don't care who you are. The "R" word is so absolutely disgusting," and Oscar winner Marlee Matlin noted, "Despite our differences, it's NOT ok to use the "R" word. Consider millions of developmentally challenged Americans. It's just UNBELIEVABLE."
Glee star Lauren Potter, who, like her character on the hit FOX show, also has Down Syndrome, tweeted, "Thank you to everyone who has taken a stand against the R word tonight!"

What I think is most powerful and is the best response to Ms. Coulter's hateful comments is what Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens wrote in response to the tweets on the Special Olympics site:

John Franklin Stephens
The following is a guest post in the form of an open letter from Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens to Ann Coulter after this tweet during last night's Presidential debate.
Dear Ann Coulter,
Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow.  So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?
I’m a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public’s perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow.  I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you.  In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.
I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.
Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.  
Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.  
Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more.  
After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me.  You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.
I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.  
Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.  
No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.  
Come join us someday at Special Olympics.  See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged.
A friend you haven’t made yet,   John Franklin Stephens
Global Messenger
Special Olympics Virginia   
EDITOR'S NOTE: John has previously written powerful opinion pieces on the R-word. Read one here.
With individuals like John Franklin Stephens, Tim Shriver and other advocates such as Max's mom, I know that we will change the how the world thinks and I know that we can make it a more accepting and better place to live in not only for Joey, but for you and I.

Have you stood up for anyone lately?  


  1. This made me cry, Jen. It's a powerful piece. I think your strength, passion, and love shines through your writing.


  2. Thank you, Shanda! We so appreciate your support!


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