Monday, February 25, 2013

Why does The NY Times demean disability?

Mr. Philip Corbett
Associate Managing Editor for Standards, The New York Times

Feb. 25, 2013

Dear Phil:

I wanted to bring your attention to this headline yesterday:

Don't Call Him Mom, or an Imbecile

Was the writer intending to refer to someone with an intellectual disability?

Would an equally appropriate headline have been:

Don't Call Him Mom, or a Retard

Why not? Both words have the same origins?

I first wrote you about my concerns with routine use of the word “retarded” in your newspaper to describe people with intellectual disabilities on Oct. 9.

On Oct. 26 you wrote: Our health editor and our mental-health reporter both agree that we should give stronger guidance to the newsroom about the use of “retarded.” I will be working with them to draft a new style note.

What happened?

The words retarded and imbecile are not neutral, nor are they the chosen descriptors of people with intellectual disabilities (and your style guide counsels neutral language and respect for preferred group descriptors).

According to The American Psychiatric Association: “Mental retardation is no longer used internationally [as a medical term] or in U.S. federal legislation.” The APA’s proposed name change for its new diagnostic manual in May is intellectual development disorder.

Would you show the same kind of disrespect for more powerful minority groups?

I will be sharing this on the BLOOM blog with our readers who are parents of children with disabilities in 136 countries.

Please let me know when this will be rectified. Thank you, Louise



As someone who has a disability,I thoroughly enjoy the NY Times, but what some fail to understand is, "intellect cannot be based on reason alone. Sometimes, one needs to make a choice. For, knowledge is useless without compassion or mercy."

May we all possess the courage to change, as never stop punching those keys.

Matt Kamaratakis

Hi Matt -- It's not a question of mercy or compassion. It's about not using disparaging/stigmatizing words that demean a group and suggest they are less than human.

For example, the Times doesn't use the word cripple because the word disability is seen as more neutral. If they began writing headlines about 'cripples' readers wouldn't be okay with that.

thx for writing!

Thanks for writing.

Hi Louise -- I couldn't agree more!!! However, before we change the practices of a newspaper, we need to reach the hearts and minds of the average person. Just because a law is constituted or passed, it does not guarantee adherence. We must be able to relate to them, channeling their humanity. Some people would refer to this as "soft power."

My words are humble, but not without purpose. I only fight when I have too.