April 12, 2010
I can remember growing up that disability was always natural to me. My mother worked at Sandhills Children's Center, a developmental daycare center, that provides inclusive services to children with special needs. So, I have been around children with different levels of abilities since before I could walk. The R-Word (retarded) was never a part of my vocabulary because that was the way I was raised. I remember friends using it as a child but I never got the significance of how hurtful and derogatory it could be until I was an adult and already working for First In Families and The Arc.
I was actually at Carowinds with a group as part of one of the many social/recreational activities The Arc offers throughout the year. We were standing in line for one of the rides, The Arc's Executive Director Wendy Russell, a friend I'll call John for confidentiality purposes, and myself. We were standing behind a group of teenagers who were laughing and joking around when one of the kids called another one the R-word. Wendy and I both looked at each other and at John to see if he noticed. Then Wendy, ever so politely, looked at the group and said "You really shouldn't use that word, it is mean and offensive to people with disabilities." Nothing more was said. That had a tremendous impact on me because I was with an individual who had a disability but still understood what they were calling each other.
Now, for most people, the use of the R-word isn't meant to be offensive but the fact of the matter is that it is hate speech. Like many other derogatory and dehumanizing terms it sets that stage for more severe outlets for prejudice, harm and abuse. Our language reflects how we think and how we think affects our actions towards people.
Ever since that day at Carowinds, I set as one of my personal goals to educate people about not using the R-word. My family and friends do their best. Sometimes they slip up and even say "Oh Michelle doesn't want us to use that word." Even that awareness is a step in the right direction. I know for some it doesn't seem like a big deal but it is and if I can get just one person to have that awareness and to make that change then I consider that a success!
First In Families Mission is to help people with developmental disabilities and their families achieve their goals and realize their dreams.