Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Parade Magazine publisher Randolph Siegel lists a few examples of the ways in which people with cognitive impairments are ridiculed in the national media. Here’s just one: A leading character on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm seduces a character with an intellectual disability, then belittles his victim when she speaks out. “I cringe when I see snark like this,” Siegel says. An excerpt:
Call me overly sensitive. Accuse me of being humorless. Say whatever you want. But if the true measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable citizens, then these mean-spirited attacks are not only indefensible, they reinforce the intolerance and discrimination that these children and adults often face in their schools, communities or workplaces. I had never met a “retard” until my daughter was labeled one after untreatable epilepsy ravaged her cognitive development.
… Over the years, I’ve bit my tongue whenever I hear “retard jokes” at business functions — or see a movie like DreamWorks’ “Tropic Thunder” in which “retards” are vulgarly disparaged in a lame effort to generate laughs — or hear a song like the Black Eyed Peas hit single “Let’s Get Retarded.” Even when President Barack Obama described his subpar bowling skills by making an insensitive joke about the Special Olympics on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”, I tried to internalize the pain. But that’s a losing strategy and no longer justifiable.
As Americans with intellectual disabilities are increasingly stigmatized and dehumanized in our media and popular culture, it’s time — now more than ever — for their families and friends to help them fight back.
(Photo from website of Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy)