By Briar Hopley
The use of a loaded word to describe mentally handicapped people has sparked a strong reaction from John Franklin Stephens, a global messenger for the Special Olympics.
Stephens wrote an open letter Tuesday to prominent American conservative political commentator Ann Coulter, who referred to U.S. President Barack Obama as “a retard.”
After Monday’s presidential policy debate in Florida between Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Obama, Coulter wrote on twitter:
I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) October 23, 2012
“Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honour,” said Stephens in his letter. “No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.”
Stephens, 30, opened his letter saying: “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?”
The uproar over the use of the word has sparked discussion all week.
“It gets used often, too often, and sometimes people are using it without even knowing it’s a derogatory term, towards someone who has an intellectual disability,” said Mike Adair, integration facilitator of the Community Integration through Co-operative Education program at Humber.
Esther Ignagni, an assistant professor of the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto, said using the word suggests that a person is slow, not worthy and it dehumanizes them.
“Historically, people that we now label as developmentally or intellectually disabled were labeled idiots, morons, retarded; those were words that actually were used by medical professionals,” said Ignagni. “And those labels justified the institutionalization of these people.”
Ignagni said the terminology to describe someone with a disability changes all the time, but for the most part people want to be considered as people first.
“If they happened to be diverse or different, in terms of how they think or how they learn or how they remember things than that’s just one trait, it’s just one aspect of them and its not necessarily a negative aspect,” said Ignagni.
Since Stephens’ letter has been released Coulter has not yet responded and her Twitter remains unchanged.
The Special Olympics, meanwhile, has launched a campaign asking people to take a pledge to eliminate what it calls the “R” word.