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Family Upset About Sign In Neighbor's Yard

   |  Posted Jul 21st, 2006 @ 10:00pm



 

Sam Penrod reporting

A cardboard sign is hanging in a tree, directed at a boy with developmental disabilities, and the boy's mother isn't happy.

Neighbor: "I'm not taking the sign down, last night was the first night of peace we've got in a long ----- time."

Carrie Heaton, Colton's Mother: "They've put up this sign now, that we feel is very discriminatory against my son."

The cardboard sign is hanging in a tree in the Central Utah town of Nephi.

It is also being denounced tonight by advocates for the disabled.

The boy's family noticed the sign pointed at their home on Wednesday night, and tonight it is still there. That's despite our visit to the neighbors who put it up.

Advocates for the disabled are outraged, calling it insensitive and in the same category as a racial slur.

Carrie Heaton, Nephi Resident: "You are a good guy."

Colton Heaton: "Yes I'm a good guy

Carrie Heaton, Nephi Resident: "Yes you are... Pats"

13-year-old Colton Heaton is developmentally delayed. His mother says he is more like a three year old.

Carrie Heaton, Nephi Resident: "He looks normal but once you start talking to him, you can see he has these problems and he's just a loving little guy, he thinks we're just a great big family."

But now a cardboard sign is hanging in their neighbor's tree -- spray painted with the words: "Caution-- Retards in Area." His mother says it is fortunate Colton can't read the words.

As we were filming the sign, we could see the neighbors who put it up were outside, so we approached them for their side of the story.

Sam Penrod, Eyewitness News: "Why did you put that sign up?

Neighbor: "I've been harassed for six months, my daughter has been assaulted."

Sam Penrod, Eyewitness News "By who?"

Neighbor: "The young boy, we got pictures and everything and they would not press charges because he is handicapped."

The neighbor claims Colton threw a rock at his young daughter. Other neighbors told us they have frequently found Colton wandering onto their property.

Still, the Disability Law Center says using offensive words is the wrong way to handle a difficult situation.

Fraser Nelson, Executive Director, Disability Law Center: "People with disabilities are probably the last group for whom we continue to use language that is hurtful and offensive. Instead of being someone who is mentally retarded, you are a person with a developmental disability and that means really what we are valuing is the person."

Tom Brownlee, Advocate for those with Disabilities: "When I was growing up, people always used that word in front of me and called me retarded."

Someone who knows how hurtful that word can be is Tom Brownlee, who today is an advocate for those with disabilities.

Tom Brownlee, Advocate for those with Disabilities: "I hate that word, it was very offensive and I just want them to see that people with disabilities deserve the respect that they are entitled to."

Both Brownlee and Nelson are hoping the community will stand up against any behavior that lessens the role of people with disabilities in society.

Fraser Nelson, Executive Director, Disability Law Center: "Regardless of cognitive disability I may have, I'm a person and people do not deserve to have signs pointed at them, making fun of them, scaring them, harassing them."

We contacted Nephi Police and they are working with the Juab County Attorney -- who told me tonight -- he finds it distasteful and derogatory and is researching what legal options may be available, since the neighbors still refuse to take the sign down.

The Disability Law Center is planning to meet with local officials to offer sensitivity training there in Nephi.

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