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Sometimes Insults Just Can't Be Ignored | Susan Clary

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Sometimes Insults Just Can't Be Ignored | Susan Clary

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Sometimes Insults Just Can't Be Ignored
Thursday, May 02, 2013 — Susan Clary

We are taught from an early age that the better person ignores insults. Firing back in anger risks escalating a situation to the point of no return and becoming the bully we so despise.

But sometimes name-calling cannot be ignored. The family of Adam Holland, a Tennessee man with Down syndrome, is suing a St. Petersburg radio station and others for allegedly altering a photo of him to include a derogatory term.

In the original photo, Holland, then 17, is seen holding a drawing he created to express his love for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans while attending an art class at Vanderbilt University for students with mental disabilities. Almost a decade later, a modified version of the photo has gone viral.

WHPT 102.5 FM, a Florida talk radio station, allegedly replaced the hand-drawn words “Go Titans One” on Holland’s sign to read “Retarded News.” The radio station’s media conglomerate, Cox Media Group, later removed the photo from the website and issued an apology.

But the photo was also found on a sign generator website, according to the lawsuit, featuring Holland’s photo under “Retarded Handicap Generator.” The website allowed users to add their own text in place of Holland’s artwork and download the image for a fee.

A third image was found on a Minnesota man’s Flickr page, where he described the posting, the lawsuit alleges, as “just a stupid photo of the sick retarded kid that lives down the street that my dogs hate.”

Can you see why the family is seeking $18 million in damages?

Along the same lines, the Florida Legislature voted unanimously this week to remove “mental retardation” from state statutes and replace it with the term “intellectual disability.” It now goes to Gov. Rick Scott to be signed into law.

Forty-three states have already taken steps to remove the word "retarded" from their laws. Three years ago, President Barack Obama signed Rosa’s Law, striking use of the term from federal policy. It was named after Rosa Marcellino, a 9-year-old Maryland girl with Down syndrome, whose parents fought to remove the word to restore dignity, inclusion and respect for people with intellectual disabilities.

It isn’t the first time that words we once associated with groups of people have been used to marginalize them and others. Even perfectly acceptable terms, such as gay, can be morphed into offensive, pejorative terms when used to attack and bully others. Unfortunately, the segment of society inclined to ostracize and devalue others will make sure this won’t be the last time. Still, we must keep fighting to stop it.

Formerly a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times and Orlando Sentinel, Susan Clary is a freelance writer who lives in Winter Park. She can be reached at [email protected].

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