“It’s just a word…”

“It’s just a word…”

Because I’m on disability now I spend a lot of my time interacting with others in on-line forums. They give me what interaction I need, but allow me time to formulate what I want to say, then edit it, then review it, then censor it, then edit it again, then post it for others to read.

Sometimes, when confronted by something upsetting or irritating like a “hot button” issue, my brain and my fingers get out of sync and I end up posting something without first going through the edit/review/censor/edit stages…

One of my hot button issues is the word “retarded” along with it 20th century gen-x derivatives “e-tard” “f*$@-tard” “tard”, well you’ve probably heard them all too…

Anyway, I was reading a post by another user that was really well written, well thought out, relevant and interesting right up until I almost got to the end and it said something along the lines of “it is RETARDED of the company to do that”. Well after enjoying this post and being rudely brought back to reality I reacted poorly and wrote a rather harsh comment to the effect that he was an ignorant jerk for making that statement in a well written long post and that because he was doing such while representing his own company that I thought he was stupid and so and so on…

I’m sure you can guess what happened next… he responded with what those of us in the special needs community hear all to often, the old lines similar to: “it’s just a word”, “step down off your high horse”, “the world’s to PC”, “we can’t censor ourselves just to not offend anybody”, yada yada yada…

This is really the point that I think people don’t understand today. This one word, “retarded”, does mean something today. When you love and/or care for someone with Down’s Syndrome you understand that your children, siblings, parents or friends have a genetic condition that dramatically affects IQ in addition to physical appearances that help people quickly identify them.

We understand that others simply see people with Down’s Syndrome as dumb or stupid. And because it is visually easy to identify people with Down’s Syndrome it makes a stronger slur to compare someone’s intelligence to that of a person with Down’s Syndrome instead of simply using a different word like stupid.

Today people don’t feel like it is wrong to use the word simply because it’s like kleenex. It’s simply an adjective now, like describing something as blue or small. They don’t stop to consider the fact that simply hearing the word is enough to upset a large percentage of people who care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and don’t understand why we can’t understand that they are not saying it in reference to our children, they aren’t attacking our siblings, they aren’t even around our friends, so we should just calm down and accept it as an adjective because of context.

Now, if we simply set that entire issue aside and look at the remaining issues objectively, it is easy to see why there are other reasons to discourage the use of the R-word. Today bullying is a significant problem. Kids all over the country are being put down, humiliated, and beat up frequently by people who sling the word at them as a slur. People need to realize that this isn’t alright. They need to understand that the context doesn’t matter because it’s the meaning and how it is being applied that is causing real harm in the real world every single day.

Fortunately, in this instance the person who wrote the post dug a bit deeper into information in my profile and took a look at my blog and quickly understood why this was such a personal issue. He apologized, we exchanged some good points and I think we both learned something. It could have gone a lot worse simply because I reacted instead of carefully choosing when and how I bring up the topic in an effort to spread the word to end the word.

Hopefully as we are faced with these situations more and more as time moves on and more children on the spectrum begin to mature and work their way through junior high and high school levels, we can meet the situation with level heads and not just stamp our feet and demand that they stop right now.

If you want any info on how to start a Spread the Word to End the Word campaign in your local schools, workplace or business, go to www.r-word.org

Hopefully we can stem the recent trend of using “autistic” in the same way before it becomes simply an adjective “in the right context”…

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