Right up front, I’ll confess that I’ve used the “r” word and even that it probably wasn’t as long ago as I’d like. While I work hard to stay away from other kinds of slurs, I’ve definitely used the word retarded as an insult. Most likely I used it to describe myself, but still, it’s a disrespectful word that hurts people with intellectual disabilities or differences, and that’s not nice.
So I’m joining Spread the Word to End the Word. It’s a campaign started by young people with and without intellectual disabilities who are tired of negative stereotypes. The effort has been adopted by Special Olympics. This annual campaign is under way and will culminate on March 3 with a day of awareness.
I mention this now so that interested schools, youth groups, families, communities, and workplaces have time to join in and spread the word. The young people affiliated with Special Olympics would like us to realize that the r-word is not cool; in fact, it’s mean and hurtful. You can go to the organization’s Web site (www.specialolympics.org/stw_resources.aspx) and download stickers, fliers, signs, posters, and informational papers to share with others. Go online and pledge to remove the word from your vocabulary.
Also on the site you can view some great videos and learn a lot more about the topic.
You can even download a doodad to your Web site or Facebook page saying you support the campaign.
This is a chance for people like me to walk our talk about honoring diversity and difference, about treating people with respect and kindness.
Special Olympics has long been a leader in promoting acceptance of people with disabilities. When President Obama appeared on “The Tonight Show” last March 19, host Jay Leno was kidding him about his clumsy bowling. Obama agreed, saying his last attempt “was like Special Olympics or something.”
Maria Shriver, whose mother founded Special Olympics, said the president’s joke was hurtful but she knew he didn’t intend it to be. Obama phoned Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics (and Maria’s brother) to apologize. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, “I know that the president believes that the Special Olympics are a triumph of the human spirit. They deserve a lot better than the thoughtless joke he made.”
My husband, Chris, and I headed to a Harmon’s store to support their Special Olympics fundraiser last spring. We bought two root beer floats and put our money in the ice cream bucket to contribute to Special Olympics programs. Nearby was a family -- a mom, a dad and who appeared to be their two teenage daughters, one of whom was a Special Olympian wearing several medals.
Dad had heard of the Spread the Word campaign and thought it was a great idea. Mom mentioned that the family had been watching Leno when Obama made his bowling crack. She said, “We laughed -- we thought it was hilarious. I saw later that he apologized and invited some Special Olympians to come bowl at the White House. That’s so cool.” So no hard feelings in my one-family survey.
Obama probably got cut some slack because people know he possesses a kind and accepting heart (and because he didn't use the r-word). He was trying to make a joke about himself and he made a bad choice in an off-the-cuff moment.
But we can all benefit from Obama’s uncomfortably public gaffe. It’s a great reminder that making remarks about people based on intellectual differences is not polite.
Using the r-word is just not cool. Spread the word.
Barb Guy is a regular contributor to these pages.