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How This 'Funny' Party Game Hurts People With Down Syndrome

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Cards Against Humanity is a game that encourages players to create the most inappropriate and offensive combinations possible from a selection of cards. The one the judge finds the most “funny” is then awarded a point. I used to play this game with groups of friends and I was really good at it. Something in the back of my conscience felt uncomfortable, though. Occasionally, I would find a card that I refused to play. One that me, in my God-like judgmental role would deem “too much.”

What was it about the cards I set aside that I felt was “too much?” Why did I look in horror at some of the suggestions and wonder how anyone could make a joke about them? It was because I had personally experienced the suggestions in life. They didn’t make me laugh, they hurt me. I knew the reality of a fraction of the cards. Yet, I was happy to play 90% of the cards. And that’s pure luck, that I didn’t feel distraught by the majority of the cards. Pure luck that my pathetic little life hadn’t thrown me too much trauma. Or maybe I was just drunk a lot when playing the game, not fully aware of what we were doing.

The majority of the cards are going to hurt or cause damage to someone, somewhere in the world. Either directly, as a result of encountering it, or as a result of the effect that Cards Against Humanity has on society. Let’s look at this in a little more detail. Let’s look at how Cards Against Humanity use Down syndrome as a tool to encourage cruel jokes, prejudice and to, ultimately, make them money.

We all know what Down syndrome is, don’t we? Incorrect. What many people think they know about Down syndrome comes from a world steeped in prejudice towards people with the condition. Historically, people with Down syndrome were treated as less than human. Placed in institutions. Ridiculed. Referred to as “Down syndrome people” or words that are so dehumanizing and offensive I refuse to repeat them. But things are different now, aren’t they?

To some extent they are. People with Down syndrome now have the same right to an education and healthcare, which, unsurprisingly, means people with the condition have a better quality of life now. This is a massive improvement, but in lots of ways, this deep-seated prejudice is still evident in our communities.

It’s 2020 and people with Down syndrome, alongside advocates, are still having to campaign to have their lives recognized and respected. They are still having to campaign to convince the public that they are equal. They are still having to make posters and presentations on how to use non-discriminatory language about their condition. Between 2016-18 there were concerns raised that doctors in the U.K. were not resuscitating patients with Down syndrome, and 19 people with the condition died as a result. In 2019 people with learning disabilities, including Down syndrome, had to hold an event with Northumbria police to raise awareness of the hate crime they were experiencing on a daily basis from members of the public. In 2020, with the outbreak of coronavirus, the Down syndrome community had to petition the government to remove “learning disability” as a reason for refusing intensive care should they become seriously ill with the virus.

This engrained prejudice towards people who have Down syndrome is still with us. As the parent of a little girl with the condition, I see it every day. There are the people that instigate it, the people that encourage it and the people that condone it. Cards Against Humanity does all three. The company has a huge influence on the younger generations, actively encouraging them to ridicule, mock and dehumanize people with Down syndrome.

Like I said, I used to be talented at being the most offensive. A year and a half after my daughter was born, we decided to play Cards Against Humanity with friends. I had a vague recollection of a few cards about Down syndrome from years ago, but didn’t think much of it. Halfway through the game, which I hadn’t actually found very funny this time around, a friend looked a bit anxious. He looked at me and said “this card isn’t very nice” and stood up. I said, “let me see it, is it about Down syndrome?” and he replied, “Nobody needs to see that.” He ripped it into tiny pieces and put it in the bin. When he returned to the game, he looked incredibly uncomfortable. We looked at my daughter, peacefully asleep while we played and called it a day. We haven’t played the game since. And we never will.

In the U.K., laws were brought into force in 2003, when disability was introduced into the Criminal Justice Act. Let’s remind ourselves of what a disability hate incident is. Hate crime is defined by “hostility towards persons who have a disability or a particular disability.” Making jokes, ridiculing or dehumanizing a person because of their disability is bullying. It is hostile behavior. It leads to a culture in which people feel it is OK to treat people with learning disabilities as less than them.

United Response, a learning disability charity, found there were more than 6,000 reported cases of disability hate incidents in 2018-19, a rise of almost 12% on the previous year. People with learning disabilities report being spat at, pushed and shoved, having eggs thrown at them and enduring verbal abuse.

Nobody should be frightened to leave their home. Nobody should be frightened to use social media. I’m sure everyone agrees with me on this. Unless of course, you work for Cards Against Humanity. It seems to me that this company want to actively encourage the attitudes towards people with Down syndrome that lead to bullying and harassment.

We are calling for Cards Against Humanity to acknowledge the damage they have done, and are still doing, to people with Down syndrome. We are asking that Cards Against Humanity review their behavior afresh in light of U.K. laws against hate crime. Finally, we are asking for Cards Against Humanity to rewrite their game to refrain from inciting hatred on minority communities, such as ours, the Down syndrome community, or cease production entirely.

Originally published: December 9, 2020
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