My youngest daughter was diagnosed with an Intellectual Disability in 1998. At the time I was not aware of how much hatred existed towards children and adults based solely on IQ score.   A quick Internet search of the words retard and retarded turned me into a hate speech advocate

overnight. In 2010, I created Family Member Inc., a 5013 advocacy organization that works to ensure that all people living with special needs and disabilities are represented fairly and accurately in news, entertainment and social media. Our mission is to erase the negative stereotypes about disability that exist today, starting with language. We work to educate people that it is not acceptable to use slurs like the r-word as they only marginalize and make a mockery of the disability community. At Family Member we believe that words have power and can hurt others. Words matter. We teach others how to stand up and speak out when they hear negative language about disability. When you talk about someone with Down Syndrome, or Cerebral Palsy or Autism, don’t say that they suffer from these disorders. It’s important to remember that people live with their disability as productive members of society and need to be portrayed as such.

We have had great success, but still have much work to do. When we started out Facebook didn’t even list disability as an option for reporting offensive pages and groups. Now, thanks to Family Member they do.   Facebook used to have groups with these hateful names; Kill All Retards, I Like Stealing from Blind People, Eating Tards, and comments on these pages such as “I like hitting retards with brooms.” While these groups have been removed thanks to reporting by the Family Member community, we must be vigilant in our efforts to remove the new hate filled pages that continue to pop up. It’s a bit like playing whack-a-mole. One hateful group gets removed and two pop up in their place.

In 2010, disability was not on the ADL’s radar.   The groups they listed as targets for cyberbullying did not include disability. After meeting with representatives from the ADL, disability is not only included but I sit on the ADL’s Education Committee, helping to eliminate bullying and hate in our schools.

Family Member has also been successful in getting hateful websites targeting children with Down Syndrome removed from the web. Videos on YouTube depicting a man with an Intellectual Disability being abused at his place of work at a car dealership in California have also been removed and the employer notified. Questions on Yahoo Answers like “Is An Abortion Cheaper if the Baby is Retarded?” have been taken down. A lot of time is spent seeking out the hate and getting it removed. At Family Member we put out a lot of fires.

In October of 2014, I traveled to Cincinnati to address the executives at P&G at their annual shareholder meeting. P&G employs Larry the Cable Guy as their Prilosec spokesperson. A search of Larry’s videos on YouTube show the comedian mocking kids with special needs and even imitating how people with Cerebral Palsy walk.   In Larry’s book Git-R-Done, he thinks radio executives have forgotten where they come from and if it wasn’t for the radio personalities they would “be on the same level as the retard working the fry machine at Wendy’s.” His Christmas album includes a song called Donny the Retard.   Although P&G have decided to keep Larry as their spokesperson, we are still waiting to see if he will apologize to the disability community.

All of the hate targeting children and adults with disabilities taking place online and in comedy clubs, shouldn’t just bother the disability community.   It actually hurts all of us, and that’s why we have created a movement to teach people why it’s so important to speak up and stand up to hate. It’s never easy at first, but words matter. What we call people is how you treat them. I’d like to think that having a child with a disability has offered me a front row seat into a world of being an “other.”   I am who I am today because of my child, and hope you can learn from her also. At Family Member we’re fighting hate and protecting the most vulnerable among us, and it feels right. Hope you’ll speak up with me.

We are asking for you to speak up when they see a person with a disability being bullied.  We ask that you speak up when you hear slurs like retard and retarded.  We want to engage the world to not hate and to stop disability hate speech.   Words Matter, just ask someone with an Intellectual Disability.


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