Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I have to talk about this.

I've written a little about my feelings on language and perception regarding people with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. When I did so, though, I was talking more about issues that are different than what's on my mind today...

...when I was teaching, it used to really really get me when kids would use the word "Gay". "That's so Gay, you're so Gay, how Gay". Just drove me up a WALL. I would call them on it, each and every time. Some smartass would always say "it means happy!" Another teacher I knew had the BEST comeback for that. She would tell them "Oh, so one genius learns how to use a Thesaurus and now you're all excited!" She was an English Teacher. It was a great line. Likewise, I hated when kids would call something "retarded", or call each other "retard". We actually had a student once who auditioned an act for one of the school's variety shows where he portrayed a mentally challenged man sitting and waiting for a bus. Muscular tics, facial expressions, speech patterns, all of it.

He didn't understand why his act didn't get in the show. Really. He didn't get it.

This is my issue. People don't get it. "Retard", to most people, isn't mean. I understand that in the original context, the word is not meant to BE mean. It means slower. I get that. But the way we use it now? It's mean. It's hurtful. And people don't get it. Kristin Chenowith, an actress I greatly admire, referred to herself as "one of those retards who starts playing Christmas music in October" on the Today show this past holiday season. Really? That's okay?

Here's what you need to get: the word is offensive. When you look at someone doing something stupid, something without thought, something they should know better than to do, and call them a retard? Yeah, that's offensive. You just compared someone being purposefully dumb to my oldest son. He isn't slower ON PURPOSE. He's just slower. He didn't learn to crawl or walk. Not because he knew how and decided not to, not as a joke, not because he made a stupid error. He did it because his growth and development were, let's use the word as it is supposed to be used: retarded. Slower. Not dumb. My son was not dumb. Not stupid.

I think people don't get that THEY might not be offended by a word...but THEY have no reason to be. They are not the one who is developing slower.

That's why, when reading an online friend's blog today, I was so happy to see this. And this. And finally, this.
Please, click through. Take a moment. I will, as bloggers love to say, wait.

Done? Okay. Thanks for looking.

Today, March 31, has been designated as a national day of awareness by Special Olympics. "Spread the word to end the word". Please, people, take a few minutes to pay attention to your own language, maybe for the next few days. Did you use the "R" word? Could you have avoided it?

Tell you what. Next time you feel compelled to use that word, consider this:This is my Tiny man. He and his brother are the light of my life. I love him and I miss him so very very much. When you use the word retard, you are negating every single thing he accomplished during his life. You are ignoring the struggle, the miracle, the magic of a little boy who just wanted to live life joyfully.

Let's just think a little, okay?

Think about that next time you use "the word".


Anonymous said...

Well said...it's amazing how acceptable this negative use of language still is. Wasn't it on Leno where Pres. Obama recently said that his (poor) bowling skills were "like watching the special olympics"? He of course apologized...but it's just a shame that it's so widespread and "forgivable"...


Kneelingwoman said...

Hi- I found you through another blog ( Prayer,Politics and Play ) and very much appreciated reading your post. I too, have a child with a disability. Our daughter, Mary, age 7 and our youngest, has spina bifida. We also lost two infant sons to a genetic neuromuscular disorder so, I am on intimate terms with the issues of living with the both the sense of loss and grief, and the limitations imposed on our families by "Disability World" and the larger culture. I was helped immeasurably, when Mary was a baby, by happening onto a website called "Disability is Natural" by Cathy Snow. I ordered her book by the same name and had many email conversations with her and it was truly healing for me and restored my own common sense and conviction that my daughter was, indeed, a "whole person" and very complete and didn't need ( or have ) "special needs" but only the same needs that every person has; to be loved, appreciated and accepted for who they are and to be given the chance to fulfill their potential. A large part of Cathy's work is devoted to helping children with disabilities and their families get "outside the box" of the "services" system and the medical model, and live natural lives in the community instead of being "offered" the many "special" programs, services etc. that further marginalize our children. I've written often on my blog for and about these issues and I hope you'll consider coming by and reading me sometime. I have 4 children and I write from the perspective of a mother, a midwife, and a now-intern spiritual director and graduate student so, it covers some territory but my parenting essays "work" for all parents and help, I hope, to stay away from the distortion that segregation into "special needs" has for us all. Bless you. Your baby is beautiful, and you are clearly and loving parent and doing a marvelous job. Peace.

Kneelingwoman said...

I'm sorry... the website, if you're interested, for Cathy is www.disabilityisnatural.com Several of my readers have ordered her book and found it very helpful so, perhaps you'll find it useful as well.