Letters to the Editor

Learn from these ‘beautiful people’

Editor, The News:

Re: O’Connoll criticized for ‘R’ word post (The News, May 7).

In the 27-plus years since the birth of my son, the Angel Andrew, with an extra chromosome on the 21st pair (Down syndrome), I have written columns in both local papers on the intellectually disabled population, as they are now known, and efforts made on their behalf to integrate them into schools, workplaces and society, in general.

I have preached about how much we can learn and grow from contact with these beautiful people.

My son has taught me much about patience and forgiveness, tolerance and compassion, love and joy.

So you can imagine my dismay at learning that two elected officials on Pitt Meadows council have laughed at the use of the word ‘retard’ in a cartoon on Facebook, originally posted by an Australian comedian: two gorillas speaking to one an other, one calling the other a “f------ retard.” Ironic this, not only the blocking out of the word ‘f------’, which apparently is worse than retard, and in far greater use, but the use of apes, from which we may or may not have evolved, depending on whether you’re in the church or waiting in the parking lot for the service to end.

Not the first comic I have heard use the ‘R’ word, or actor.

Tori and Summer Brack have already spoken to this issue.

‘Retard’ was once used, maybe 50 or 60 years ago, as the official designation for our special needs friends, but since has evolved into a pejorative, an extremely offensive and extraordinarily insensitive word that reflects badly back on our friends and family in the intellectually disabled community.

To think that it is used now by two people in positions of power in Pitt Meadows whose actions may or may not impinge on the ID community is beyond the pale.

As one of councillor Gwen O’Connell’s Facebook friends writes: “Yikes”.

Yes, yikes, Gwen and Mayor Deb Walters, who writes, “Oh my god, that is so you  ... too funny.”

Another of O’Connell’s FB friends says, “thank you for my first LOL of the day.”

Yikes, indeed.

O’Connell was shocked that people were offended by what she claims is an innocuous Facebook post (“Are you kidding?” she says), and that she certainly did not mean anything by use of the ‘R’ word.

What makes her use of the ‘R’ word worse is that she has a cousin who is mentally handicapped. It was just a joke, she said. I’ve heard this one before and, no, it’s not funny, it’s objectionable to those of us in the special needs community.

Other comments in support of Ms. O’Connell say that the whole thing is “ridiculous” and “it’s time to unfriend ‘thoughs’ (!!) who obviously have no sense of  humour, let alone have no life” … “such a waste of energy” … “keep the funny stuff flowing.”

And, speaking of ‘no life,’ let’s institutionalize those retards, as was done in the ’50s (my words).

The whole idea of integration was to give the members of the ID community a life, to allow them to contribute to society and to offer the rest of us some exposure to those whom we may not understand.

My son spends three mornings a week working at the recycling depot and one day helping to make lunches for the homeless at the Salvation Army. He makes people smile.

Coun. O’Connell and Mayor Walters, being politicians, with their traditional fear of the media, are afraid that people will write to the newspapers, “people having nothing else to write about.”

And, of course, they are right; and we hope the local papers get bombarded with letters of condemnation and that other politicians might contribute their feelings on the matter.

I believe it’s an election year, and if I were a citizen of Pitt Meadows, I would think long and hard about placing my mark next to these two names. You never know who else they might mock.

Tim Tyler

Maple Ridge

 

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