Today - March 6th - has been declared "Spread the Word to End the Word Day". It's a campaign started in part by the Special Olympics to bring attention to the need to eliminate the use of the R word from our vocabulary.
I'll be honest, I have struggled with whether or not I think it's a fight worth fighting for the past few years. The phrases "it's just a word", "don't be so sensitive" and "here come the PC police" all come to mind when talking about this issue. But then I look at my son and I think of the gut wrenching feeling I get every time I hear someone say it or I read it somewhere and I finally decided that it is a cause worth standing up for.
I have no illusions that every person in the world will stop using the word "retard" but I hope this campaign will at least make people stop and think about who it affects when they say it.
The words "mental retardation" started out as a medical term to describe someone with slow mental development. It is one of the primary issues that people with Down syndrome have to deal with. But that doesn't make them stupid.
Let me say that again...people with Down syndrome aren't stupid.
They may take longer to learn concepts than their typical peers, but they are capable of learning. Slow does not equal stupid.
Unfortunately, the R word is thrown around by people in our society to describe everything from a friend who is acting dumb to a machine that isn't working properly. The use of the word in those contexts is bad enough (if only because it's a completely inaccurate use of the word!) but much worse is when it's used as a hurtful insult to someone with a disability.
My son may have Down syndrome but that doesn't mean he doesn't have feelings. It doesn't mean he is immune to your insults or comments. And it definitely doesn't mean he is deserving of them. He is only 4 but already he goes out of his way to be nice to every person he meets. He flashes his infectious smile, blows kisses and gives hugs to everyone he can.
When you use the R word - in any way - it's hurtful to him, it's hurtful to me and it's hurtful to the millions of other people with developmental disabilities and the people who love them. It's time to stop it.
I'm not going to sit here on my high horse and act like I've never said it either. I have and even though I never used it in a way that I thought it would hurt someone that doesn't make it okay. But I don't use it now. And I hope that the next time you think about using it or even the next time it slips out of your mouth (change is hard!) you will think about my son and how that word may affect him and how much he doesn't deserve it.