How horrified would you be if your child had Down syndrome and the caption was a slur against people with special needs?
It's happened, and you don't need to be those parents to feel their horror. Now, they're suing in what's said to be the first case of its kind.
It's about time some haters got their due.
Pamela and Bernard Holland are parents to Adam, who has DS; they live in Nashville. At 17, Adam took an art workshop in which he made a sketch that read "Go Titans One." A photo of him holding it went online (you can see it here). And then, it got swiped and people started writing nasty captions. It ended up on the website of Sarasota, Florida radio station WHPT-FM, with the sign Adam holding Photoshopped to read "Retarded News."
"Retarded News" is a segment on The Cowhead Show, one of the radio station's programs. It's designed, court papers say, "to highlight odd stories that are seemingly always in the news. These stories are NOT about disabled individuals."
That may be true, but a radio segment labeled "Retarded News" is offensive to anyone with intellectual disability—it's equating them with weird, stupid stuff. (If you are new here and don't totally get why the word "retard" demeans, read this.) The Cowhead Show still has a YouTube video up called "Retarded News Theater" with a voiceover by a man speaking in a slow, slurred voice. You'd have to be a pretty pathetic human being to find that amusing.
The Hollands are suing the parent company of the radio station, Cox Media Group, along with the Sign Generator website and a Flickr user for featuring images of their son with derogatory captions. Sadly, I've seen photos of Adam online with these captions; I never knew who he was until now. I've seen it happen to other children and young adults with Down syndrome, too. You might recall that something similar happened to Heidi Crowter, a young woman with Down syndrome. A photo of her as a child was stolen online and, for years, used in a nasty photo meme, often with the words "I can count to potato." Heidi's mother put up a Facebook page begging sites to take down the photo.
The Hollands' lawsuit won't stop the slurs, of course. Perhaps the case will establish legal precedents, however, for misappropriating images online. Meanwhile, these parents are sending a message: You can't make people with special needs the victims of defamation and cruelty online without consequences, legal or moral. And they're raising more awareness about an awful word that's no joke if you are a person who's intellectually disabled, or you love someone who is.