Today I am spreading the word to end the word. What word? The R-word. I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about…if not, I’ll say it once. I’m talking about the word “retard”. This word leaves a nasty taste in my mouth whenever I hear it. It’s a word I’ve cut out of my vocabulary ages ago, when I started volunteering at a recreational group for the developmentally handicapped. Before I started volunteering at the rec group, I used that word. Frequently. I used it to describe a person who was frustrating me, or being “stupid”. I used it to describe situations I didn’t like. I used it because I didn’t really understand the heaviness that word carries. I used it because I was ignorant. I was oblivious to the pain that word could inflect upon an individual.
I met so many amazing people that I still consider to be my friends at that rec group, people I am deeply protective over. People who amaze me with their kindness, their gentle spirits, the way they accept anyone and anybody with wide open arms. I have so many great memories with them, there at that place. I spent so much time camping and at dances, hanging out with my friends. Making new ones. There was one girl, S, who was hit by a car when she was a little girl. She suffered from brain damage and a lot of physical issues. But she could hold her own in a conversation, hell she talked me under the table about topics I can’t even begin to comprehend. One day, she was called the r-word. And it broke her heart. She asked us why everyone called her that, she said that she and all the other members were not the r-word, they were just different. They were people with jobs, goals, friends, families, and hobbies. She was right, of course, and it broke my heart to see her pain.
The bottom line is…people with developmental disabilities and/or delays are not stupid, they can hear you, they have feelings. And when they hear the r-word, it hurts. A lot. I’ve seen it first hand. I’ve watched faces of my precious friends with developmental delays or disabilities crumble with a hurt so deep when they heard that r-word muttered by a person walking by that it also broke my heart. Even if it wasn’t directed at them, the word still hurts. Even if you’re using it “not in that context”, it still hurts. It hurts the hearts of parents of beautiful children with Down syndrome. It’s insulting, and it’s uncalled for. Why does that word have to be used as an insult anyway? Why can’t people just say things like “I’m incredibly frustrated with my phone today”?
I’ve taken the pledge, because I don’t want the r-word to be used so carelessly. I don’t want to see hearts hurting over it. I don’t want to see people made fun of. Call me crazy, but I want to live in a world where we don’t have to explain to children that we need to “ignore” certain painful words because “it’s common”. I don’t want it to be common.
Will you be speaking out against the word?
Here are some more great posts on this topic, from parents and families with children who have disabilities:
Our Unexpected Love: Today is the day to spread the word
The Redneck Mommy: Dear Internet: I’m Placing You On Notice
The Redneck Mommy: Why You Shouldn’t Use The R-word
Love That Max: If you ask people to not use the word “retard”