The leading human rights organization for all individuals with Down syndrome.

National Down Syndrome Society
8 E 41st Street, 8th Floor
New York New York 10017
[email protected] 

Response to The Descendants

December 20, 2011

Alexander Payne
c/o Craig Gerig
2000 Avenue of the Stars
Los Angeles, CA 90067

Dear Mr. Payne,

I am writing to you on behalf of the National Down Syndrome Society to express our concern with lines of dialogue in your film, The Descendants, which are demeaning and hurtful to people with Down syndrome and their families.

The conversation between the characters Matt King and Sid that uses the word "retarded" is exactly what we strive to work against. Using the word "retarded" as a synonym for dumb, stupid or otherwise unlikable is demeaning to people with cognitive and other disabilities, while mocking their ability to cross the street is similarly distasteful and offensive. People with Down syndrome and other disabilities are capable of intelligent thought, understanding and behavior, and should not be referenced as a way of commenting on one's intellect, in either a humorous or serious manner.

At the National Down Syndrome Society, we understand that this type of language 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 – all at their own pace. 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 disabilities are inappropriately referenced, it sustains and perpetuates these low expectations and negative stereotypes and further impedes their acceptance 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 invite you to produce films that tell the true story about Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities, and help us break down stereotypes and educate the public. Together we can make the world a better place for those with this genetic condition.


Julie Cevallos
Vice President of Marketing
National Down Syndrome Society

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