The “r” word has been all but excised from most adult communication thanks to the crusading work of many parents and disability advocates who have branded it a meaningless and offensive description.

The use of “retarded” tends to crop up now primarily among young children who still need lessons on basic concepts such as respect and understanding.

Some adults, however, seem to have missed those lessons. For them, an eloquent Special Olympian from Virginia has just strode on the public stage.

Here’s the background:

Ann Coulter, the conservator provocateur, has recently become an almost compulsive user of the term to dismiss her opponents.

After Monday’s presidential debate, she referred in a tweet to the president of the United States as a “retard.”

She later defended the tweet to the New York Observer by arguing: “The only people who will be offended are too retarded to understand it.”

This came just days after Coulter had been publicly criticized for earlier using the word. The father of a Down syndrome boy had called her out in an essay published by NBC’s Today.

“I want Ann Coulter to apologize for using a form of hate speech that is particularly searing to people who have special needs,” wrote Dan Niblock.

Now, Special Olympics athlete John Franklin Stephens has added his own response to Coulter in an open letter on the Special Olympics blog.

I am reprinting it in full below, because it has left me speechless (and I’m not alone, because the letter is being posted and re-posted faster than you can say “snap.”)

“Dear Ann Coulter,

Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?

I’m a 30-year-old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public’s perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow. I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you. In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.

I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.

Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.

Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.

Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are — and much, much more.

After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me. You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.

I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.

Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.

No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.

Come join us someday at Special Olympics. See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged.

A friend you haven’t made yet,

John Franklin Stephens

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