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Spread the Word to End the Word

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I’ve wanted to write about this for a while now…about a year or so, I guess.  I’ve tossed words around in my head to try to figure out the best way to say it and hesitated to even approach the subject for fear of being misunderstood, labeled or categorized as “an emotional mom.”  I can’t keep it in any longer, and March 31 gave me just the thumbs up I needed to get started.  So, here goes nothing:

On March 31, across the United States, people on college campuses, in high school cafeterias and workday offices have launched the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign. The goal: make people stop and think about their hurtful and disparaging use of the word “retard” or “retarded.”

Spread the Word to End the Word is raising the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the R-word and urging people to resolve to stop using it as an insult, casual or intended.
Think about it.  How many times in your life have you used this word flippantly, certainly not meaning to hurt anyone’s feelings, but just as a figure of speech….slang?  I have.  Well, I did.  It’s amazing how quickly things can change.
You see, last December, I took a test that forever changed my feeling about this word.  A quadscreen came back with high odds of my baby being born with Down Syndrome.  That rocked our world.  Things got scary and perspective shifted.  One evening, my husband and I were watching TV and the comment left my lips, “Oh, that is SO ret….”
“Wait a minute, I can’t finish that word.”  A knowing glance from him indicated that it stung him just as badly as it did me.  After all, we’d spent all week googling the words “Down Syndrome” and found an overwhelming amount of information and family testimonials and beautiful, beautiful faces.

How 'bout a little respect?

That was the moment for us.  We agreed that whether or not our baby was born with DS, we’d gotten close enough to the reality of it that we could never, ever use that word again.  Not flippantly, not in slang or jest.  Not ever.
And you know where we are today- we have a beautiful, beautiful boy who was born with Down Syndrome.  And I won’t lie to tell you that it hits me like a slap in the face each and every time I hear the R-word.  It never gets easier and it’s not one of those things we can just brush under the rug…..
So now, I stand with the Special Olympics and thousands of families, friends and really, really cool people who choose to find a new r-word…..RESPECT.  It’s amazing that in a culture that strives to be politically correct (to a fault, it seems), this hasn’t been brought to the forefront of our culture until now.
Today, all I ask is that you would take a minute to examine your words- your conversations- your thoughts.  Have you used this word?  Is it part of your vocabulary?  Have you heard someone use it?  Can you boldly, yet gently, educate the person to its negative meaning?
It’s a tough thing to do- I’ve done it with friends, acquaintances and even strangers.  Try to offer them new ways to say things.  For example, if someone is using the phrase, “That is so retarded!”– give them other words such as silly, crazy, nonsense.  With regard to individuals with challenges, rather than labeling them a “retard” or “retarded,” use the words cognitively delayed or mentally disabled.
Take the high road with me on this one.  Be bold in standing up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves, and practically incapable of anything but love.
I cannot let this one go and I vow to do it for Seth, Lauren, Grady, Stephen, Ibby, Rachel, Zachary, Jessica, Noah, Abby, Carly, Kara and countless other precious, perfectly formed little children who need us to be their voice.  If we won’t, who will?
As Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  Wow- what a reminder to me that I have a lot of seasoning to do in my own life!

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11 Responses to “Spread the Word to End the Word”

  1. Mimi Skaggs April 7, 2009 at 4:47 pm #

    Well said….the way I look at people has changed for me as well….I’m thankful for that.

  2. Nana April 7, 2009 at 6:10 pm #

    Amen and amen!

  3. Jenn B April 7, 2009 at 11:11 pm #

    Emily …. not only is this well said, but a strong reminder of something all of us already knew. Thank you so much for this and how you live your life. Love you much!

  4. Gina April 7, 2009 at 11:26 pm #

    It’s good to hear your heart… I commit!

  5. Jennifer April 8, 2009 at 5:22 am #

    Amen! Thank God for seth ! and that there can be no such word “retard”. for no one is , they may have a disability like Seth but really all in all there still part of Gods kingodm and God does nto make junk Amen!

  6. becky kiser April 8, 2009 at 8:47 am #

    I’m glad you said something. Love y’all!

  7. Clara Kruljac-Sorensen April 8, 2009 at 9:02 am #

    Good word, and timely too! I don’t know if you knew, but my first year of teaching I was the PPCD teacher at Oakwood Forest in Atascocita. All 8 of my angels were 5 and under and suffered from varying disabilities. The R-word began to affect me then when it became so painful to hear it in jest when I was teaching 8 of God’s most beautiful creatures. Without awareness, people can be cruel without even knowing it, so for the 8 little children I love and pray for even today and for myself and my family, we stand with you in the effort to bring a new awarness to our society…I’m with you!

  8. Lamandra April 8, 2009 at 9:26 am #

    I am hereby adding “nonsense” to my everyday vocabulary! Thank you for this.

  9. Margaret Wilson April 8, 2009 at 12:51 pm #

    I am happy to see what you wrote. About six years ago, my daughter had a baby boy with Down Syndrome. It was totally unexpected. I have never seen a little boy, age 6, as loved as he is by his two sisters, mother and daddy. What a blessing he is to our family.

  10. Jennifer April 11, 2009 at 8:05 pm #

    Precious post…our son has strabismus, and just dealing with a health issue has opened my eyes even more how people are just people, no matter what (whether blind or challenged in any other way) and they are all precious in God’s sight…so, so precious!

  11. kimberlie April 23, 2009 at 10:00 pm #

    well said. Maybe it is because one of my best friends since age 11 worked is a pediatric PT and I volunteered with WOW and helped her with other developmentaly delayed children (and adults) but I’ve been using words like “delayed” and “special” for many years. I’m not sure the last time I even heard the word retarded but you’ve made me aware that my children need to be raised with this same awareness. They have DP (developmental program)friends at school that are mainstreamed. It is an awesome world where we can all be together – when it happens.
    A few weeks ago I asked Christopher, “what does DP mean to you?” There are three children who have been in and out of his classroom since kindergarten (he is in 3rd now). His answer? “they go to some specials with us and eat with us and then they have some of their own classroom time.” He didn’t see them as anything other than part of his classroom.
    A testament to his teachers I’m sure. I’ve helped up there and love how the children help each other no matter what level they are (DP or NOT!!). Children have pure hearts born of God. It is adults that teach different. Amen to the adults who campaigned to end the R word (but I’ll bet it started with kids…… just saying – they are special)
    again, well said!!

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