AUSTIN -- In 2008, DreamWorks released "Tropic Thunder" starring Ben Stiller. Repeated use of the word "retard" provoked outrage and protests from the community of people who have intellectual disabilities, and those of us who are their families, friends and co-workers.
I led one of those protests because you cannot imagine the hurt caused by that word if you don't know — or care about —people with intellectual disabilities. A year and a half later, that word still permeates our culture on TV, radio and the movies. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel used it to denigrate those who disagree with the administration on health care. Rush Limbaugh jumped on the bandwagon, saying "Our political correct society is acting like some giant insult's taken place by calling a bunch of people who are retards, retards." He called Emanuel's meeting with advocates for those with intellectual disabilities a "retard summit at the White House." Sarah Palin, mother of a child with Down syndrome, denounced the use of the word both times, but called only for Emanuel's resignation.
The only thing missing in this tempest is understanding that people with intellectual disabilities merit respect. They have feelings. We should be able to muster a modicum of civility toward them.