AUCD Joins People with Disabilities in Protesting Language Used in Hollywood Movie 'Tropic Thunder'

August 14, 2008

George S. Jesien, PhD
Former Executive Director


AUCD joins self-advocates with disabilities, families and other national disability organizations in protesting the language used to refer to people with intellectual disabilities in the DreamWorks production of "Tropic Thunder" which recently opened in theaters.  The use of the word "retard" is inflammatory and demeaning to people with intellectual disabilities. Worse, our history has shown that devaluing people all too often leads to abuse, neglect and even violent crimes.

Our country is based on the principle that we are created equal. Disability, as part of the human experience, is an aspect of human diversity, and like other areas of human variation, should be treated as such rather than as a defect that deserves less respect. The self advocacy movement led by people with developmental disabilities has fought for years to eliminate the use of the term mental retardation due to its incredibly harmful impact on their lives. Self-advocates have been successful in passing legislation in some states to replace the term with one that is more respectful - people with intellectual disabilities. They have also successfully pressured professional organizations and state agencies to discontinue its use. Like other minority groups, self-advocates should also be consulted regarding how they want to be portrayed.

AUCD supports the efforts of self-advocates and families to educate those in the entertainment industry about the importance of depicting people with intellectual and all disabilities in a positive and respectful manner and is willing to work with this industry to advance the position that disability is an aspect of human diversity.

The Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), located in Silver Spring, MD, promotes and supports a national network of interdisciplinary centers on disabilities. The members of AUCD represent every U.S. state and territory and include 67 University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDDs), 34 Interdisciplinary Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Programs and 21 Developmental Disabilities Research Centers (IDDRC). Together, these organizations advance policy and practice through research, education, leadership, and services for and with individuals with developmental and other disabilities, their families, and communities, in support of independence, productivity, and satisfying quality of life. For more information, visit AUCD's website

More information on the reactions to "Tropic Thunder"