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Advocacy group protests Emmy nod for ‘Down Syndrome Girl’

August 19th, 2010

Family Guy musical number was nominated in “Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics” category

Source: Letter from the National Down Syndrome Congress

Members of the Self Advocate Council of the National Down Syndrome Congress this week sent a letter protesting the Emmy award nomination given recently to “Down Syndrome Girl,” a musical number that appeared this spring on Fox Television’s “Family Guy.”

The number, which was honored in the category “Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics,” describes a character with Down syndrome as a “little whore” who is “poorly grooming,” “as-of-Monday-shoelace-tying,” “just a little crooked walking” and “a special person’s wettest dream.” The lyrics also include a reference to the “shorty bus.”

The Council, composed of people who have Down syndrome, characterized the song as “hateful” and said its recognition by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences carries the unjust message that “those of us who have Down syndrome are less valuable than others and deserve ridicule and abuse because of our disability.”

The letter, which was directed to Academy chairman John Shaffner, asked that the song not be aired on the upcoming Aug. 29 Emmy Award broadcast. An excerpt:

When the organization you head honors this kind of prejudicial materials, particularly on an award show that is meant to celebrate the best of television programming, it means that those of us with developmental disabilities will have to fight even greater discrimination. What you promote impacts us very personally. We will be taunted more and treated less humanely, we will struggle to be included at school and in our communities. We will have to fight even harder for jobs.

… We implore you as the Chief Executive Officer of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and someone who has brought satisfaction to millions through your exceptional production design talents, to promote positive portrayals of those of us with Down syndrome on television.

We beseech you and the Academy to balance this discriminatory song with the truth about us … We are real people with real feelings trying our best to live productive lives in our communities.

The lyrics of the musical number “Down Syndrome Girl” are here, and a video clip can be seen here. Earlier posts are here.

2 Responses to “Advocacy group protests Emmy nod for ‘Down Syndrome Girl’”

  1. Jo Ann Simons Says:

    July 14, 2010
    Peter Rice
    Chairman
    Fox Entertainment
    10201 West Pico Blvd.,
    Los Angeles, CA 90035
    Phone: 310-369-3553

    cc. Seth MacFarlane (Executive Producer)

    Dear Mr. Rice,

    I am writing to you on behalf of the National Down Syndrome Society to express our concern with Family Guy’s song ‘Down Syndrome Girl’ and its recent Emmy Award nomination in the category of Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics.

    The song is demeaning and hurtful to people with Down syndrome and their families.

    At the National Down Syndrome Society, we understand that this type of programming is often the result of a lack of information and/or a lack of exposure to people with cognitive disabilities. We hope that you take this opportunity to educate yourself about cognitive disabilities and gain a better understanding. Approximately 400,000 people in the United States have Down syndrome, which is caused by a third copy of chromosome 21. Individuals with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities work very hard – harder than most people – to learn how to read, write, play musical instruments, participate in sports, live independently, and become valuable members of their communities. They deserve to be respected and celebrated for their success and achievements, and not to have their clinical diagnosis used as a punchline.

    More often than not, these individuals are underestimated their whole lives by people who focus on their disability, rather than their abilities.

    When people with Down syndrome are inappropriately referenced, it sustains and perpetuates these low expectations and negative stereotypes, and further impedes the acceptance of people with disabilities in schools, the workplace, and the community. Negative and inaccurate public perceptions are the greatest barriers the National Down Syndrome Society faces in achieving acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome.

    People with Down syndrome should not be defined by their condition. It’s most appropriate to reference a person with Down syndrome, a man with Down syndrome, a child with Down syndrome, and not a “Down syndrome girl”.

    We invite you to produce programming that tells the true story about Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities, and help us break down stereotypes and educate the public. Together we can make the world a better place for those with this genetic condition.

    Sincerely,

    Sarah Schleider

    Vice President Marketing & Communications
    National Down Syndrome Society
    666 Broadway
    New York, NY 10012
    212-763-4369

  2. Dave Hingsburger Says:

    I’m going to be slaughtered for saying this but the letter, as written, concerns me. It lacks a certain credibility in its use of language. I work with self advocate groups and have assisted with writing letters of concern. The advocate groups insist on plain language and insist that their words be their words. This letter sounds written by a lawyer or a press representative — not by a group of people with disabilities. Authentic voices need to be heard. Authentic voices are powerful. We as people without intellectual disabilities need to speak, we also should never misrepresent our words. I may be totally wrong here and this may have been written exclusively by people with intellectual disabilities, and if that’s true, I apologize for my preconceptions.

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