An Open Letter To Celebrities On Twitter Who Continue To Use The R-word

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

A few faces of who you hurt

Dear Celebrity on Twitter (and all the tweeps who follow you):

You have hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of people following you. Whatever you tweet will most likely get replied to, retweeted and/or favorited over and over again.  Your tweet will be hashtagged and shared on Facebook and Instagram. It will be shared with your followers, their followers and so on.

So when you use the r-word to insult someone or something – it goes way beyond your social media reach.

Some people will praise your “wit” and ability to speak your mind. While others will be disgusted, disappointed, outraged and bewildered.

Tweets, blog posts and Facebook status updates will condemn you for your cruelty, ignorance and lack of compassion for a community who have done nothing to offend you, the way you have offended them.

And this is what you want. It’s all free publicity (especially when you have a new book/show/record coming out).

You have an agenda. I get it.

But please understand – as a parent of a special needs kid, I have an agenda too. And it’s much more complex and critical than your need to be pop culture relevant.

It’s not about being oversensitive or playing word police or taking the Internet too seriously.

It’s about respect, equality, dignity. These are the basic qualities of life not necessarily granted to my child simply because he has special needs.

You are not the first person or celebrity to use the r-word. Sadly, you will probably not be the last. Because the r-word is a word so deeply embedded in our culture, used by people who do not understand why it is so hurtful.

You do not understand why the word is so hurtful.

My son is 6.5 years old. His name is Norrin and he has autism. And with your use of the r-word – you have hurt him. You have hurt millions of children and adults living with any kind of disability. In 140 characters or less, you have sabotaged and diminished every single thing a special needs parent advocates for. You are perpetuating this stereotype that individuals with special needs are stupid, ugly, worthless and less than.

You do not understand what it feels like to sit through months of testing, appointments and evaluations. You do not understand what it’s like to wonder or worry whether your child will ever walk, talk or have a friend.

You do not understand what it’s like having therapists in your home, teaching your child to do the things that come so easily to others.

You do not understand what it’s like to see your child stared at or laughed at simply because they are different.

You do not understand what it’s like to sit through an IEP meeting with a room full of strangers, fighting for your child’s right to an appropriate education.

You do not understand the hours spent dealing with insurance companies.

You do not understand the simple joy of watching your child doing something for the first time.

You do not understand how one person can change your entire outlook on life.

And you certainly do not understand the love between a parent and a special needs child.

If you tried to understand any of these things, the word would be eliminated from your vocabulary.

I am not the first person or mom to write about people who use the r-word. (Ellen has dedicated much of her writing to it and created a powerful video about her son Max – you can see it here.) And I will not be the last.

And I am not a celebrity. I’m not a person you’d follow on Twitter. And chances are my words will be out of your reach. But I hope to reach your followers. I hope they will read this and take the time to understand.


Not a follower or fan of yours


Image (from top to bottom/left to right): Ted, Norrin (AutismWonderland), Ashlyn (Four Plus an Angel), Henry (Try Defying Gravity), Abby (Mostly True Stuff), Moe (Anybody Want a Peanut), Angel (Sailing Autistic Sea), Helene (ProfMomEsq), Ian and Luke (The Domestic Goddess) and Peter (Everybody’s Boy)


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  1. by Miz Kp

    On October 24, 2012 at 7:05 am

    Thank you for writing this post. I certainly hope that it helps to bring awareness to how hurtful the r-word is. This word is so deeply engrained in the fabric of this society that it will take a monumental effort to make people aware of how deeply it cuts. That just means we have to work harder to make people aware. I have heard friends and family use it. I am sure I may have used it when I was in college. People like Ann Coulter make a living hurting people with their words but like you mentioned we are trying to reach the people who listen to her.

  2. by Spectrummy Mummy

    On October 24, 2012 at 8:31 am

    I hope you reach them too. Lets put this word away- it is hate speech, and needs to be treated as such.

  3. by Caroline

    On October 24, 2012 at 8:36 am

    This word is an insult to all of us who value human dignity and respect of others. Profanity at it’s worst.

  4. by Jessica

    On October 24, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Thanks so much for speaking out on this Lisa, I hope your reach is far and wide.

  5. by Katie Carr

    On October 24, 2012 at 10:44 am

    In tears. Thank you for this.

  6. by Diane

    On October 24, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Great post Lisa! Your comment “You have an agenda” unfortunately is what drives some of these “celebrities” a little too often I think.

  7. by Deirdre

    On October 24, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Amazing post Lisa! So heartfelt – and so direct at the same time! I’ve shared this on my facebook page~:)

  8. by Eileen

    On October 24, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    This is a wonderfully written and intelligent letter. Thank you for writing this! Whoever you are! I couldn’t agree more!

  9. by Ellen S.

    On October 24, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    TOUCHE, Lisa! Great post. It’s unsettling when anyone says the word, but when it’s someone with a kajillion followers, it’s particularly awful.

  10. by ASIM

    On October 24, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    A bitter truth written intelligently

  11. by Melissa B

    On October 30, 2012 at 12:04 am

    I also TOTALLY agree with Lisa. Very well informative & well written.

  12. by Frances Capo

    On November 5, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Thank you Lisa for your words and most of all courage to write on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves. I am a mother of a beautiful girl with Down syndrome and can only hope that our world can change for the better with positive awareness made by people like you!

  13. by fan letters to celebrities

    On November 21, 2012 at 5:18 am

    Hi Lisa.. really a nice post that gives a strong message to everyone..very well drafted and created.. A post that created awareness too..

  14. by Don’t.

    On March 6, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    [...] An Open Letter To Celebrities On Twitter Who Continue To Use The R-word – Lisa Quinones-Fontan… [...]

  15. by Is 'Autistic' the New R-Word? | To The Max

    On July 24, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    [...] and celebrities. It’s never okay when anyone uses – in anger, frustration or to insult. I have no problem calling out celebrities who’ve used the r-word. And Ellen has written extensively on the subject and her youtube video Would You Call My Child A [...]

  16. [...] are times when I hear it, I speak out against it. And there are moments when I let it go. But whenever the word is used in front of my son, I [...]

  17. by Hey TI It’s not cool to make fun of kids – Opinion

    On November 6, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    [...] not okay. It wasn’t okay when 50 Cent or D.L. Hughley did it.  It wasn’t cool when Ann Coulter did it. It wasn’t cool when Drake and J.Cole did it.  And it’s not okay [...]

  18. [...] It wasn’t okay when 50 Cent or D.L. Hughley did it.  It wasn’t cool when Ann Coulter did it. It wasn’t cool when Drake and J.Cole did it.  And it’s not okay when [...]

  19. by One Word Can Ruin An Entire Book

    On June 16, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    [...] for the author’s use of the r-word. I’ve called out comedians (D.L. Hughley), commentators (Ann Coulter) and rappers (Drake & J.Cole) for using the r-word. Just the other day, I [...]