Clare Short facing criticism over use of the word ‘mongol’ in Radio 4 interview about children with Down’s syndrome
By Damien Gayle
PUBLISHED: 08:48, 5 April 2012 | UPDATED: 10:54, 5 April 2012
A former cabinet minister today apologised after using an ‘offensive and outdated’ term when talking about children with Down’s syndrome.
Clare Short used the term ‘mongols’ twice during an interview on Radio 4.
She was speaking about Game Change, the new film chronicling the life of former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin whose three-year-old son has Down’s.
Her comments were met with criticism from charities who deemed the term offensive.
Sarah Smith, information officer for the Down’s Heart Group, told MailOnline: ‘It’s a really old fashioned term that’s been used as a term of insult rather than a term to describe someone’s condition.’
Ms Short told the Front Row arts and culture programme she was ‘quite touched by the film’.
She said: ‘We see her having a mongol baby – and when she hugs the mongol children who come to her meetings, I’m afraid it brought me to tears.’
Front Row host Mark Lawson quickly corrected Ms Short, saying: ‘Down’s syndrome is the term she [Mrs Palin] and others prefer.’
Chastened, Ms Short replied: ‘Sorry, oh yes.’
Named for John Langdon Down, the British physician who in 1866 first described the condition, Down’s syndrome is caused by a chromosomal abnormality.
It is associated with some impairment of cognitive ability and physical growth, and a particular set of facial characteristics.
Dr Down’s perception that these features shared similarities with the Mongolian race, according to prevailing ethnic theories, led him to derive the term mongoloid to describe those affected.
The term continued to be used until the early Seventies but is now considered to be both pejorative and inaccurate and is no longer in common use.
Down’s syndrome campaigners have criticised Ms Short for her use of the term.
Mrs Smith added it was disappointing that people who are in the public eye still think that describing people with Down’s as mongols was acceptable.
‘I’m sure she didn’t mean it as an insult but it’s a term that’s really out of date and offensive to a lot of people,’ she said
Vanda Ridley, of the Down’s Syndrome Association, also described the term as ‘outdated’.
She said: ‘The Down’s Syndrome Association aims for the inclusion of people with Down’s syndrome into the community without labels and titles but as people in their own right.’
Roughly one in 800 to 1000 children is born with Down’s. With the right support those affected by the condition can go on to complete school, find jobs and live semi-independent lives.
After she was contacted by MailOnline today, Ms Short apologised and said no insult was intended.
She said: ‘The word simply came to me wrongly. There was a family next door to me when I was a child that had a much-loved child with Down’s who was a friend.
‘In those days the word was mongol. I presume that is why the word came into my head I apologised as soon as I was corrected.
‘There was no insult given or meant.’