Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

BBDO New York, How About Some Real Respect

Special Olympics sponsored rallies and other events today to promote its Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, which asks people to respect individuals with cognitive disabilities and to refrain from using the cruel and dehumanizing word "retard."

The advertising agency BBDO New York contributed posters supporting this campaign, in which the R-word is explicitly compared to ethnic and other slurs. (Edit: these posters are pretty strong stuff—thanks to cripchick for suggesting that I add a trigger warning for this link.)

Unfortunately, the agency's history demonstrates that its concern for avoiding offensive descriptions of people with disabilities may be less than genuine. As many of us will recall, BBDO New York was responsible for the Ransom Notes advertisements in December 2007, which compared autistic children and others with disabilities to tragic kidnap victims whose lives were being destroyed. Those ads were so full of offensive disability stereotypes that they were withdrawn in response to public outrage less than three weeks after their release. BBDO New York was also responsible for the Autism Speaks television ads that compared the odds of having an autistic child to dying in a car crash, being hit by lightning, and other such imagery carefully crafted to give the impression that an autistic child was about the same as a dead one.

Although BBDO New York would no doubt like to convince us that it has had a genuine change of heart, I'm more inclined to believe—especially after reading this New York Times article published yesterday—that its Special Olympics ads are merely part of a cynical strategy to "pay attention to the disabled" so as to appear more responsible during the economic downturn. The agency's CEO, Andrew Robertson, has been a board member of Autism Speaks for the past two years. I'm not aware of any efforts he has made to end the routine use of cruel and dehumanizing language by Autism Speaks in describing autistic people. How about ending the hypocrisy too, Mr. Robertson?

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  • i can't believe that has the special olympics logo on it. the posters really hit me hard.


    (actually it may be best to put a trigger warning on the link)


    By Anonymous cripchick, at 8:20 PM  

  • Thanks, I've edited the post next to the link.

    By Blogger abfh, at 9:59 PM  

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