Take action against offensive language use by journalists

This got to me a bit late, but the action alert is still up, and as far as I can find, no apology has been issued. The zoning issue though has been cleared up and the group residence is going forward. The letter being sent through the action alert contains text of "as an Alabaman," but this can be customized for people anywhere who wish to express displeasure. In my letter, I cited this Guidelines for Reporting and Writing about People with Disabilities article.

The Democrat-Reporter, a weekly community newspaper in Linden, Alabama, recently described a proposed residential home for three clients of The Arc of Fayette-Lamar as "retard housing." The paper’s derogatory remarks are hurtful and unfounded, and our community cannot tolerate them. If we do not confront the use of language like this, even when published in a small-town newspaper, it will perpetuate lingering stereotypes of people with cognitive disabilities.

An interesting note: apparently in Linden, Alabama, the "unrelated person" laws in areas that are zoned for single-family homes are actually enforced (unless protested like this one was). My guess is that they're selectively enforced, since it's likely there are households with three unrelated roommates, but still, that's evidence of pretty regressive policies. The law in Massachusetts (Chapter 40a, Section 3!) specifically exempts groups of housemates with disabilities from any local laws relating to unrelated persons living together or to zoning (in other words, that a group residence is to be considered a residence rather than a business, since the business activity taking place there is necessary for the folks to live in the community). There also seems to be a de facto understanding in Massachusetts that these sorts of laws are only applied if a household is otherwise causing a nuisance or public health concern and are not enforced as a means of discriminating against perfectly stable households of chosen family. While we certainly have exceptions -- and some very vocal ones -- it pleases me that the general social climate in Massachusetts tends to be one of not worrying about that which isn't harming anyone.


Jodie said...

You would think that people would just plain know better than to call something "Retard Housing." Is this paper run by second graders?

Language aside, I would love to take the route that we in Massachusetts are so much more enlightened, but we're not. When the first group home that my mom worked at was build, back in about 88/89, the neighbors did much of the same, with the protesting and all. Actually, 3 of my freinds lived in that neigborhood, and I remember some of the parents being in an uproar.

While that article doesn't cite any good reason why there shouldn't be a group home (kids playing unattended? what, are they stupid? there should always be a parent around for a multitude of reasons), there are some concerns that if they voiced appropriately should be addressed. Like for instance, the group home my mom worked at- one of the residents had a habit of eloping stark naked. So if the neighbors were to say, educate their children and not let young children play unsupervised (which again, just plain bad idea. have you seen the way kids beat the crap out of each other?) instead of just saying KEEP THE RETARDS OUT, it would be a win-win situation.

eeka said...

Oh, sure, that's what I meant by the exceptions; I know of people protesting residences in the Boston area for folks with MR too, as recently as this year. The protesters didn't get far at all though, partly because there aren't the same discriminatory laws they could cite.

In one neighborhood, there was a group of people flipping out about how the people moving into the house (who have quadripledia and severe medical needs) were going to molest their children, since the supported housing services are provided by an agency that harbors sex offenders. (They determined this because the agency obviously doesn't refuse services to no-longer-incarcerated people with an offending history, since that's, uh, illegal). In that particular instance the administrators of the agency actually decided it would be inhumane to subject the individuals to living in a neighborhood full of bigots, and they bought a house elsewhere.

It's a tough line, because in some situations, the two groups of neighbors can learn from one another in a fairly respectful way -- both groups can benefit from being exposed to types of people they probably haven't interacted with much.

In other situations where it seems more hopeless, I think the agencies have the responsibility to respect that it's not the job of the people with disabilities to educate the public about themselves.

But yeah, public education in GENERAL is totally needed. It worries me that people are targeting any neighbor who has a label (including people who reeeeally don't pose a threat, like people with quadripledia and ventilators) as a potential threat to their kids. Their kids are way more likely to be targeted by the nice teacher/coach/minister/parent whoever down the street. So yeah, why were they playing outside alone for hours before the person-with-label moved in?