Today’s the sixth annual Spread the Word to End the Word Day, a day devoted to raising awareness about why we as a society must stop using the word “retard” which perpetuates negative stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities. The campaign was stated by the Special Olympics with the goal of not only eradicating the use of such an insulting word but to raise awareness about why everyone is entitled to consideration and respect.
For as long as I can remember I have been offended when people use the term “retard”. As a young professional, I had the honor to staff the Will County Advisory Committee of Disabilities a group formed by Will County Executive Larry Walsh to work with persons with disabilities in the County of Will to not only hear about the group concerns but to find solutions. This group was responsible for helping to identify commonsense solutions that would bring county buildings into compliance with the ADA—I remember when I approached the committee about the county’s intention of making all county buildings ADA compliant, one of the committee members explained, “Let’s make sure that when making the buildings ADA compliant we don’t make them inaccessible for the persons with disabilities who use the buildings. As a committee we would like to make suggestions that would make the buildings more accessible and will likely be more cost effective.” The members of this committee had a range of disabilities some physical, some intellectual but they were all extremely passionate, thoughtful, and community minded individuals. So whenever I heard the term “retard”, I would think about these individuals and I remember wondering if someone could still use the “r” word after meeting the meet likes of Bang Long, Jr. or Pam Heavens both passionate advocates in the County of Will.
Fast forward to the birth of Caroline—from birth she was medically involved and developmental delayed—for a long time one of my biggest missions was to find out was it a delay or a disability. At first, I was very sensitive about Caroline’s delay but I didn’t know how to express it. I remember sitting at the dinner table, at the home of some extended family, getting ready for a holiday meal with Caroline sitting in my lap and hearing, “He is acting like such a retard,” and many similar comments throughout the course of the meal. Caroline was sitting directly across the table as this family member, who was well aware of Caroline’s challenges, dropped the “r” word like it was nothing. I became extremely quiet for the rest of the trip. We were guests in his home, I was not sure it was appropriate to address my anger. But in business meetings, on neutral ground, I have responded to the use of the “r” word by explaining I not only find that word offensive but hurtful as I have a daughter with special needs. For a long time, I felt this was a battle I was fighting alone. I think that is I why I was so overwhelmed when I learned about the Spread the Word to End the Word Day campaign, an organized effort to not only end the use of the “r” word but to raise awareness about why everyone is entitled to respect and consideration—I now know I am not fighting this battle alone.
10 Reasons Why Kids like Caroline Deserve Your Respect
and why you shouldn’t use the “r” word
- Because she is a kid. She may act differently, walk differently or think differently than most children do but at heart is a child like any other. She matters. She has worth. She has potential. #1 was borrowed from Ellen Seidman who writes the Love that Max Blog because she said it so perfectly.
- Because in addition to Caroline having an intellectual disability she is medically involved—she is a fighter, she is strong, and she is amazing. She has been through more in her short life than most adults—don’t diminish what you do not understand.
- Because Caroline is able to find joy in almost any situation. In other words, despite her challenges she has accomplished more in her life than I have—as I have yet to learn how to find joy like my daughter
- Because Caroline can understand you. She may not be able to speak to you but she understands and she has feelings—respect them as you would your feelings or the feelings of your child respected.
- Because as a mom of a special needs child who is medically involved, I fight enough battles with the insurance company, providers, schools, and just about everyone else—don’t make use my skills on you.
- Because Caroline deserves more than to be tolerated—she has so much to offer this world. Those who can see past her disability to her abilities are lucky enough to experience those gifts.
- Because Caroline has a wicked sense of humor. She is nonverbal but she messes with people on a regular basis—know that you can tease her and joke with her just don’t hit her below the proverbial belt.
- Because at the end of the day why would use a word that is hurtful to so many and demonstrates your ignorance and intolerance.
- Because we need to remember the golden rule: Treat others how you would like to be treated.
- And because how could you use a word that is hurtful and derogatory to this face
Different, not less.