Man with Down Syndrome Responds to Ann Coulter's Use of 'Retard'

Friday, October 26, 2012

During this past Monday’s presidential debate, political commentator Ann Coulter tweeted: “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.” Her choice of words in referencing the president elicited widespread uproar across social media. One particularly well-written and well-thought out response stood above the rest.

Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens published, “An Open Letter to Ann Coulter” on the Special Olympics blog. In his letter, he pleads with Coulter to reconsider her usage of the word and its negative connotations. He writes that Coulter “assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult” and closes powerfully with these words:


"Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor. No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much. Come join us someday at Special Olympics. See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged."

Katherine Stone is the founder and editor of the blog Postpartum Progress. She recently wrote an article entitled, "Why I Quit Using the Word 'Retarded.'" 

"As a kid, when you have these words that you used in your lexicon, you know, they stick with you," Stone says. Growing up in the 1980s, words like "retard" were simply part of the vocabulary. But after becoming a mother, and realizing how hurtful this speech was to the mothers of disabled children, she realized that it was a habit she should kick. 

"Perhaps there are all other sorts of arguments that should have made me change my mind," she says. "But that was the thing that got to me, was the idea that I would hurt a fellow mother by using that word, and as a parent, I just can't do that."


John Franklin Stephens and Katherine Stone

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja and Jen Poyant

Comments [11]

Ed from Larchmont

Ann Coulter has always been rough in her language, it's her style.

Oct. 29 2012 05:47 AM
Anne from Portland, Oregon

The print version of this story used "Man with Down Syndrome", but in the radio interview Mr. Hockenberry referred to Mr. Franklin as a Down Syndrome man. Mr Hockenberry, please remember that Mr. Franklin is a man first and foremost. I would have much preferred you to say, "Mr. Franklin, as a man with Down Syndrome ...."

Oct. 28 2012 01:56 PM
Brandt Hardin

Ann is just one of the talking heads guarding the inhabitants of Bullsh*t Mountain from rejoining the world of the sane. Fox News is a propaganda machine which dumbs down America by the day through disinformation and their slanted agendas. See their anchors spewing forth feces from their mouths in my visual homage to the network on my artist’s blog at

Oct. 26 2012 06:26 PM

Oct. 26 2012 04:02 PM
Hugh Sansom

Ann Coulter isn't just displaying hatred of or stupidity and ignorance regarding people who might be handicapped or challenged mentally. She is also doing something she specializes in — playing on racial and race-hatred stereotypes. She knows she can't get away with the "N" word regarding Barack Obama, so she goes for one that plays on old stereotypes about African Americans. She is one of the very worst among right-wing commentators, and when we consider how violently hateful the comments of Michele Bachmann or Todd Akin and others like them are, that's saying something.

Oct. 26 2012 03:51 PM

Ahhh, a Twitter story.

Now, some people might think that Twitter is only occasionally a serious medium. Or not.

But gee whiz, if The Takeaway was going to do a Twitter story this week, there were at least a couple of choices.

One choice was to lambaste Ann Coulter and, by extension, Republicans.

Another choice would have been to get into the story about how, after the last two debates, many Obama supporters were sending Tweets urging the assassination of Mitt Romney or mass rioting in the event of a Romney electoral victory. Twitchy covered it; the mainstream media wouldn't touch the story. So much for public radio digging deeper, and providing alternative news.

The Coulter story seems decidedly unimportant, with Ann Coulter being the official representative of no one but Ann Coulter. On the other hand, the Romney/Twitter/assassination threat story was taken seriously enough, officially, for the Secret Service to investigate.

So guess which story The Takeaway did. The unimportant anti-Coulter story? Or the more significant Democrat-embarassment story? Two choices; I'll give you three guesses.

Oct. 26 2012 03:13 PM
James Wood from Portland, OR

The original meaning of the word 'retard' was slow. It came to be applied to those with mental disabilities through the evolution of language. The word has continued to evolve and is no longer used by those with mental disability to self identify.

Because a word is offensive doesn't mean it should be off limits, just used with the knowledge that it will offend some.

Oct. 26 2012 01:28 PM
Alex from Oklahoma City

My particular experience with offensive slang includes of use of the word "gay" in a pejorative sense. My peers and I frequently used the word to refer to someone or something that we for whatever reason considered weak, insipid, or unmasculine. When one friend's wife took issue with our use of the word, we started using the phrase "other than heterosexual" in the exact same sense, which is obviously no improvement.

It wasn't until my sister-in-law came out as homosexual and I became good friends with her girlfriend that I realized just how thoughtless and hurtful, not to mention nonsensical, that my usage of the word really was.

I've since started using the word "silly" in reference to things or people for which I have disdain. This way I can offend exactly who I intend to offend, with surgical accuracy and without wreaking any collateral damage.

Oct. 26 2012 11:01 AM

I'm not "hip" enough to take favorable notice of your show - quite the contrary. But this mornings segments were interesting and thought provoking (in an unusually positive way). Maybe it was the non-judgmental spirit of the woman who was the real life inspiration for "The Sessions".

[Angel are you a regular listener?]

I was thinking at some point in your conversation with Frank (maybe nudged by the earlier conversation with Amy Sullivan on the current abortion 'kerfuffle') that he was most effective in delivering the "coup-de-grace" to mindless use of the word "retard" as a stereotypical way of denigrating a person's intelligence. (Are you paying attention yet Angel?)
In a somewhat ironic footnote: Does anyone remember Obama's invoking the "Special Olympics" to increase the laughs over his bowling scores?

I'm wondering whether the next time you have a segment on "therapeutic" abortions to terminate a pregnancy, to prevent the birth of a Downs Syndrome child, that maybe you would consider having Frank back to contribute to the discussion. I really have no expectation as to what he might say but he sounds as if he would say it well and I would want to here it.

Oct. 26 2012 10:54 AM
jamesw from New York

Love you guys, but any segment based on the yammering of Ms. Coulter is a waste.

Oct. 26 2012 09:45 AM
Angel from Miami, FL

Everyone knows Ann Coulter IS a retard. A "Retard" is a person who is NOT mentally challenged but repeatedly says or does the dumbest things.

Oct. 26 2012 09:32 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.