July 18, 2011
Dear Mr. Thompson,
I am writing to you on behalf of the National Down Syndrome Society to express our concern with the description you wrote for GQ's The 40 Worst-Dressed Cities in America. While we appreciate the retraction of the sentence in the section about Boston with regard to people with Down syndrome, we hope you fully understand that the comment is demeaning and hurtful to people with Down syndrome and their families.
This comment is exactly what we strive to work against. "That's true, but due to so much local in- breeding, Boston suffers from a kind of Style Down Syndrome, where a little extra ends up ruining everything...." This statement is indicative of the inaccurate and ignorant stereotypes that are all too common in our culture. Down syndrome is caused by an error in cell division, not by inbreeding. In spite of this disability, people with Down syndrome are capable of intelligent thought, understanding and behavior and should not be referenced as a way of insulting choices in style or behavior, in either a humorous or serious manner.
At the National Down Syndrome Society, we understand that this type of comment is often the result of a lack of information and/or a lack of exposure to people with cognitive disabilities. We hope that you take this opportunity to educate yourself about cognitive disabilities and gain a better understanding.
Approximately 400,000 people in the United States have Down syndrome, which is caused by a third copy of chromosome 21. Individuals with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities work very hard – harder than most people – to learn how to read, write, play musical instruments, participate in sports, live independently, and become valuable members of their communities. They deserve to be respected and celebrated for their success and achievements, and not to have their clinical diagnosis used as a punch-line. More often than not, these individuals are underestimated their whole lives by people who focus on their disability, rather than their abilities.
When people with Down syndrome are inappropriately referenced, it sustains and perpetuates these low expectations and negative stereotypes and further impedes the acceptance of people with disabilities in schools, the workplace and the community. Negative and inaccurate public perceptions are the greatest barriers the National Down Syndrome Society faces in achieving acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome.
We thank you for your cooperation in removing the comment from your post, and hope that you will not include this type of language in future articles.
I truly look forward to your thoughts and comments.
National Down Syndrome Society
8 E 41st Street
New York, NY 10017