Have you seen the GEICO commercial, “Words Hurt”. Funniest freaking commercial out there. It cracks our family up every time we view it.
Then Abby said to me (in all seriousness): You know mom, words really do hurt. They just don’t leave a bruise.
Once in a great while my girl takes my breath away. Words do hurt. I know they hurt me. I was a beyond awkward teenager with very large front teeth, unruly hair and no fashion sense. Before bullying was a killer it was just part of growing up. It was teasing or just in fun. There were so many words that at the time we didn’t know hurt beyond measure. Words that are echoed in our head 30 years later when we look in the mirror.
At our child.
I’ve written numerous times at how I have evolved as a person when it comes to the word retard. I have spoken up repeatedly when family or friends use the word retarded. I have admitted to my past use and my goal to have that word obliterated from our verbiage. I also contend that I am more appalled when I hear that someone is acting/being/is a retard more than when I hear that a “thing” is retarded (i.e. the amount of time spent on a town meeting article). True story, in our last town meeting I overheard “this process is so retarded”.
The truth is, when you say someone is/being/acting retarded you are really saying something else. You are referencing the thousands of people with disabilities. The ones who cannot throw like a girl, the ones who drool or the ones who are not “typical”. When you say that person is acting like a retard, you excuse it and say I wasn’t talking about your daughter. You do not realize you are comparing the two and finding her less than. You are implying that someone is broken, not whole, stupid or less-than others.
I am often asked, why this fight? Those who say that I make others feel bad when I correct their use of the word. I’m told that the word isn’t used “that often” anymore–false. I heard it last week at a town meeting. I hear it at my daughter’s school when the older kids don’t realize I am behind them. I hear it at the local bar, at a friend’s house party and read it in books. I am asked, out of all the battles I fight for Bridget to be accepted, included and for her to remain healthy why am I “stuck” on this fight?
Because this one I can win.
I know words hurt, but I know they can also heal. When a word starts as a medical diagnosis and is bastardized to hateful slang the establishment evolves and to help remove the stigma. I know that technically Bridget’s development is slow or limited (medical definition of retarded via Merriam Webster). The definition also states that it is sometimes offensive. So if you are going tell me, Kerri it’s a medical diagnosis, it’s in the dictionary. Then you also have to say it’s offensive.
That you are deliberately using one word that by definition is offensive when there are thousands of others you can choose.
How can I win the war against the “R” word? Simple: if you picture Bridget the next time you are using it to describe someone’s actions.
Does it make you shudder? I hope it does. I hope it makes you become one more person who vows to Spread the Word to End the Word. Seven years ago the Special Olympics created a site to spread awareness of how hurtful the R word can be to others. In 2010 legislation was enacted to remove the words mental retard/retardation from federal, employment, education, and medical terms/laws. In seven short years (almost as long as Bridget has been alive) change has happened and continues.
Why do I fight this battle? Because I know it can be won. Start with the kindergarten adage, “be kind”. Don’t leave unseen bruises on persons with intellectual disabilities or the parents, siblings and others that love them.
Together we can end a word that hurts.
Want to join the #Respect movement? Share this post (or your own thoughts) on Facebook, Twitter (@endtheword) and other outlets with the #Respect showing that you stand with Bridget and not against her.