Blogging 31 days for Trisomy 21 continues with Teaching Tuesday:
Today you are going to learn the worst word you could ever say around anyone involved in the special needs community. Our community calls it the r-word. It is the equivalent to a curse word in our community. In case, you don't know the word, it is the word r*tard.
Full disclosure: When I was in high school and college, I used the r-word. I used it in slang just like many other teenagers. I didn't understand I was insulting people when I used that word. I thought people who got upset about the r-word were just over sensitive. Looking back, I was ignorant. I'm ashamed that I said it.
After Jaycee was born with Down syndrome and corresponding delays in cognition, my husband and I immediately stopped using the r-word. Now, it was personal. Now, it was like making fun of my daughter every time we heard someone use it in our presence. It was then that I understood why the r-word was hurtful. Her condition was nothing to use in slang for a laugh.
Many people use the r-word today. I understand that they don't get it. I don't lecture anyone about it most of the time. Ok, there was one time when some people kept repeatedly saying, "What are you r*tarded?" After some back and forth of people calling each other the r-word with Jaycee sitting right in the middle of the room, I said, "Jaycee's the r-word would you like to make fun of her too?" They were very embarrassed but I had enough! I haven't heard those people use the r-word in front of me since though.
Just last week, I was in a daycare for work when I heard the teacher call herself the r-word because she messed up the words to a nursery song. I cringed when I thought about how many toddlers heard her use that word and will think it's appropriate to do so. Sadly, the r-word is used everywhere.
Here's what I do to combat it: I do model appropriate language. I don't laugh at a joke with the r-word. If I get a chance to speak publicly or give information like this, then I use those opportunities to teach. So please, don't use the r-word. This is especially true if you have a family member with special needs or work with children with special needs.
Not saying the r-word is respectful. Yes, people with Down syndrome deserve respect, even if they can't ask for it.
For more information, look at this site that spreads the word to end the word: