Actress Jennifer Aniston used the word “retard” during a television interview Thursday, drawing criticism from disability advocacy groups.
Appearing on Live with Regis and Kelly (video here), Aniston was discussing a recent Harper’s Bazaar photo shoot in which she wore costumes in the style of Barbra Streisand.
“You’re playing dress-up!” Regis told her. She replied, “Yes, I play dress-up! I do it for a living, like a retard!” The remark drew laughter from the studio audience and guest cohost Kristin Cruz.
“Frankly, someone in her position ought to know better,” Peter Berns, chief exec of The Arc (a nonprofit advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities), told Us Weekly. “She is using language that is offensive to a large segment of the population in this country … â€¦Every time folks hear that word, it kind of reminds them of all the discrimination and oppression they’ve experienced in their lives. Even if it wasn’t intended to insult them, that is the effect of it.”
… “Sadly, people use the word pervasively even if they don’t realize it,” said Kirsten Seckler, spokeswoman for the Special Olympics. “People with intellectual disabilities have fought their whole lives for understanding and recognition. When people continue to use the R word, it’s hurtful.”
Sarah Schleider, communications VP of the National Down Syndrome Society, released a letter inviting Aniston to work on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities. An excerpt:
This statement is indicative of the inaccurate and ignorant stereotypes that are all too common in our culture. People with Down syndrome are capable of intelligent thought, understanding and behavior and should not be referenced as a way of commenting on one’s own intellect or life choices, in either a humorous or serious manner.
At the National Down Syndrome Society, we understand that this type of comment 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.