24 April 2017Down Syndrome Australia was extremely disappointed to learn that footballer Heath Shaw used the term ‘retard’ at a football match over the weekend in reference to another player. The use of this word is extremely offensive to people with an intellectual disability and there is no excuse for its use. It is a hurtful term which has a long history of being used to bully and demean people with an intellectual disability.
Down Syndrome Australia recognises that Heath Shaw quickly apologised and acknowledged that the use of this term was inappropriate. At the same time, it is important to understand how damaging the use of such a term by a high-profile athlete is to community attitudes.
“Despite progress in understanding of disabilities, people with an intellectual disability face social isolation and lack of community understanding. In a recent survey of more than 800 families of people with Down syndrome, nearly a third indicated that they had experienced stigma and discrimination in the community. The casual use of the deeply offensive R-word by high profile Australians reinforces stigma and negative attitudes and has a significant impact on how the community views people with a disability”, said CEO Down Syndrome Australia Dr Ellen Skladzien.
Down Syndrome Australia will be writing to the Australian Football League to call for further education of AFL players on issues around disability and appropriate use of language.
It should be noted that the AFL has been proactive in disability awareness. They have supported the Fiona McBurney Match Day Experience which enables people with Down syndrome to participate as part of the match-day umpire team. This program provides a unique opportunity for people with Down syndrome as well as raising community awareness and understanding about Down syndrome.
Down Syndrome Australia looks forward to working with the AFL to build a better understanding of disability within the AFL players and ensure that the use of this inappropriate word is not repeated.