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Community groups fight offensive language

October 12, 2008 8:31:39 AM PDT
There has been progress to improve society's view of people with developmental disabilities. Things changed when the language in a popular movie offended many individuals with intellectual disabilities.Whether it's language or action, the negative portrayal of people with disabilities often opens the doors to prejudice and abuse.

In the film "Tropic Thunder," Ben Stiller plays a fame hungry actor cast in a war movie. He previously had a role as a mentally disabled character named ''Simple Jack". The character is repeatedly referred to as a "retard".

"The 'R' word is unacceptable," said John Voit.

John Voit is the president and CEO of Seguin Services. It is a not-for-profit organization serving people with developmental disabilities in the Chicago area.

"Words are very powerful and your words form attitudes, beliefs, values that turn into actions. People who might watch this movie might say, well people who are retards, I don't want them working in my company, I don't want them living in my neighborhood I don't want them participating in my schools next to my child," said Voit.

Even for people with developmental disabilities like Glenora Mills this hurts.

"When I've seen the movie I did not like how they put us down. It was the very vulgarist movie I've ever seen. The language and how they made fun of handicapped people," said Mills.

Other movies like "Rainman," "I am Sam" and even the comedy "The Ringer" have characters with developmental disabilities. But they are portrayed with respect.

What surprises Voit the most is that Stiller, who co-wrote and directed "Tropic Thunder" was being insensitive to people with disabilities

"If you look at Ben Stiller's own admission in his biography, he suffers from a bipolar disability and that's a very challenging disability to deal with, he has obviously succeeded in his life but I'm sure he's been the subject of understanding abuse," said Voit.

The disability community protested the released of "Tropic Thunder" which earned top dollars at the box office. The issue is not that people with developmental disabilities are humorless, it's more says National Arc board member Nancy Webster.

"I am channeling dignity, and integrity and respect and I think that we should be about that even if it's comedy," said Webster.

"I think there's ways of portraying lots of things in a comedy without targeting and at the expense of people that would be harmed and hurt by this," said Voit.

For more information, please visit: www.seguin.org and www.thearc.org.


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