Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Spread the Word to End the Word"

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and coinciding with this is a national campaign to end the "R" word. The word "retard" or "retarded", originally derived from "mental retardation" a common diagnosis for many individuals with a developmental disability, is finally being recognized for the hurtful, degrading slur that it has become. For the past 15 years, I have had the privilege of meeting and working with some truly amazing individuals as a part of my job for a not-for-profit agency that provides services to individuals with developmental disabilities. In the past year, the culture of our field has been changing and addressing this outdated, disrespectful terminology. The state's governing agency has changed their name from "NYS Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities" to "NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilties" -- removing the "R" word, and putting the emphasis where it should be -- on the people that we serve. Now, instead of "mental retardation", we more correctly use the term "intellectual disabilities."

I went to the "R-Word: Spread the Word to End the Word" website and in a matter of moments, I made my pledge:

"I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. I work at a human service agency that provides services and support to individuals with developmental disabilities. The people that we serve are kind, compassionate, bright individuals with the same hopes and dreams that anyone else has. Long before I started in this field, I recognized this word to be hurtful and degrading and I eliminated it from my vocabulary. My husband and I have always expected that our children show others respect. We look forward to the day where all citizens are shown respect, regardless of their abilities, race, religion, etc."

I hope that you will join me and make your own pledge -- it is easy to make the pledge on the R-word campaign's website, and it is easy to remind yourself and others that this word is hurtful to millions of people with intellectual disabilities, and their families and friends who care for them. If we can educate our children from a young age, we can replace the old "R" word with a new one - Respect.

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