Ann Coulter’s use of the R-word triggers backlash

Ann Coulter
Ann Coulter

Disability activists are pushing back against controversial conservative pundit Ann Coulter’s frequent use of the “r-word.”

After the final presidential debate, Coulter tweeted, in reference to President Obama, “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.” On October 24, she doubled down on her use of the “r-word,” characterizing her many critics as the “word police.”

“Look, no one would refer to a Down Syndrome child, someone with an actual mental handicap, by saying ‘retard.’ Where do you think the words ‘imbecile,’ ‘idiot,’ ‘moron,’ ‘cretin’ come from?,” she said on Alan Colmes’ Fox News Radio show. “These were all technical terms at one time. ‘Retard’ had been used colloquially to just mean ‘loser’ for 30 years. But no, no — these aggressive victims have to come out and tell you what words to use.”

In one widely circulated response, John Franklin Stephens, a former Special Olympian, invited like Coulter to educate themselves on the disability community.

“After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me,” Stephens wrote. “You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV. I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.

“Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.”

Many other activists were outraged and demanded that Coulter apologize.

“I know what it’s like to be growing up, called ‘deaf and mute’ and ‘deaf and dumb.’ They’re words that are very degrading and demeaning to people who are deaf and hard of hearing,” Marlee Matlin, an Oscar-winning actress who is deaf, told the Huffington Post. “It’s almost … it’s almost libelous, if you want to say that. And it’s absolutely absurd that someone in the position that she has … to be able to use the R-word, and to refer to our president. It shouldn’t even be used. It’s such a backwards word.”

Disability rights groups have been advocating for the elimination of the “r-word” for years, arguing that it has an offensive connotation and is degrading to people with disabilities. The Special Olympics is currently pushing a “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign to spread awareness of the word’s harmful effects.

For more information on language involving people with disabilities, see here and here.