Oct. 24, 2012 -- A Special Olympics athlete with Down Syndrome has written an open letter to conservative columnist Ann Coulter, scolding her for using the word "retard" while criticizing President Obama.
The letter by John Franklin Stephens has quickly gained enormous support on the internet, but so far Coulter has not responded.
Stephens decided to write the letter Tuesday after Coulter sent a Twitter message during the presidential debates Monday saying approved of "(Mitt) Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard," referring to Obama.
Coulter also used the word in a Tweet where she said that if Obama is "'the smartest guy in the room' it must be one retarded room.'"
The messages ignited a firestorm of responses from Twitter users who took issue with Coulter's use of the word as an insult.
Stephens, who gives speeches and talks for Special Olympics as a "global messenger," wrote an open letter criticizing Coulter for her choice of words and describing the struggles that people with mental handicaps face.
"Come on Ms. Coulter," he wrote. "You aren't dumb and you aren't shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?"
Stephens wondered, in his letter, whether Coulter was using the word to bully the president, as many of his fellow Special Olympians have struggled to overcome bullying and succeed anyway. He also asked whether Coulter used the word to describe someone who struggles to be thoughtful about his word, "as everyone else races from one snarkey (sic) 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," he wrote. "Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are - and much, much more."
Stephens, who is 30 and has Down Syndrome, said he has struggled with the misconception that "an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow." He said the term is commonly used as an insult and a way to bully people, especially when it is featured in pop culture, such as in the movie "Tropic Thunder."
"Using that word is like using a disgusting curse word," he told ABC News. "People should reconsider what they say, what hurts and what doesn't. Everybody is different."
Stephens said today that he has been flooded by support from people who also condemn Coulter's use of the word, and he hopes that the incident brings awareness to others, who may reconsider their use of the word in the future.
One person who has not reached out to Stephens about his letter is Coulter, Stephens said. He said she has acted "heartless" about her choice of words.
"She can definitely learn from it and I know that she can at least try and be much better about what words to use when she's on the news," he said. "Consider that love is the answer, not hate, not a word like retard or any other word."
To prove his point, Stephens ended his letter with an invitation to Coulter to join him and fellow athletes at the Special Olympics.
"See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged," he wrote.
Coulter's representatives did not immediately return requests for comment.