Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spread the Word to End the Word

Have you ever said it? And if so, in what way did you say it? It’s quite a contradictory word that can be used innocently enough, but can also be used in a mean, hurtful manner. Most of you reading this already know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the “R-Word.” Not sure why I just capitalized that, because it really doesn’t deserve it. Retarded or retard. The thesaurus next to my desk states, “1. [said of persons] backward, underachieving, stupid 2. [said of activities] delayed, slowed down, held back.” The root of the word comes from the Latin word, tard, or slow. In music terminology, the Italian term ritardando means to gradually slow down. Perfectly acceptable. There was a time when a group of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities would be called “retarded.” Again, not really a problem when referring to a real medical condition in which development is delayed – it’s just antiquated, especially given the way the word so easily became a mean-spirited, hurtful put-down.

My husband and I had a long talk about this topic this morning. I asked him if I could tell the story of a day when Samantha was about a year old, when he was in England visiting his family, and I was on the phone with him. He was at a party with his siblings and some other people, and when I asked him about the ruckus (ruckus?) going on in the background, he said, “Oh, I’m just hanging with this bunch of retards.” I called him on it immediately, he apologized, and we never spoke about it again. In the nearly 20 years I had known him, I had never heard him say that word, and it truly surprised me. I never faulted him, and knew that he didn’t mean it to hurt Samantha in any way, but in retrospect, I always thought that he was just trying the word out, like tasting it to see what it would be like to say it. Understandable. But today he said that my theory was incorrect. He said that he said it just to say it. He said it because he was referring to his cohorts as a bunch of idiots. He admitted it to me, and when I told him I would not blog about that story, he said I should, to illustrate just how easy it is for people to say and not realize the damage they’re doing. He absolutely did not realize it, and is a prime example of how carelessly people can throw that word around. (Oh, by the way, he said if he gets hate mail from people after this, I’ll have more than that word to worry about and that I’ll have several very un-PC words aimed my way. LOL)

The state of Virginia is ranked 46th among the states for the provision of services available to people with intellectual disabilities. However, a bill was recently passed to remove the term “mental retardation” or “MR” from all legislation, existing and future in favor of “intellectual disability,” or “ID.” Some of our local advocates were instrumental in seeing this come to fruition, and it marks a very important step in the recognition of people with these disabilities as people with a fighting chance at a Life Like Ours. Antiquated terms with negative attached stereotypes should be removed. Now this is not to say that the term “Intellectual Disability” may one day become taboo, but it looks pretty unlikely from where I sit. I can’t see children on the school yard throwing around the epithet, “You’re just an intellectually disabled person!” A little too bulky, huh?

Today is End the R-Word Day. You may not have known that. Or, if you’re on Facebook, and have a child with Down syndrome, you probably did. Today is not the only day you can spread the word, but it is a day to stop and think about how you can help to end the word. If each of us can touch just a few people by passing along this message in some way today, that’s more awareness than yesterday. And hopefully those people that receive that message will realize how much hurt it can cause, to us, to our children, to a whole population of world citizens affected by intellectual disabilities in some way.


RobMonroe said...

Thanks for this post. So important.

Monica Crumley said...

Great story. Thank you for sharing. It's usually in this context, I think, that the R word is spoken, which is why it's hard to get rid of. Your husband wasn't thinking of Sammie at that moment. That's also why raising awareness is so important, especially to the youth. I used to use it as a kid... thank goodness it's been out of my vocabulary for 30 years. BUT, this morning JUST MINUTES AFTER MY TALK to the school, the lunch lady said her husband used to work with the retarded children. Ugh! I know in her case it's generational and she wouldn't know better. But for goodness sake, didn't you just watch my talk?!?!?!??!

Annie said...

You're so amazing. So brave to share your life. This post is so eloquently stated and so very true...and yes, so very important. THANK YOU for sharing this. xo

kecia said...

what a great example! Thanks for sharing! I agree it is so easy for people (me being one of them in the past) to say it freely without realizing.

thanks for the advice on your post about preschool...I want to ask them to do that. It would be a great help.
Also I got the skirt from old navy but only some of them around here have them and I never saw it online, but maybe it is now.

stephanie said...

hi there , thanks for stopping by my blog. Your Sammie is outrageously gorgeous! That header took my breath.
I'm glad you could relate to my "twin" issue,lol Definitely something only an only child could truly appreciate!