Words can hurt more than sticks or stones

March 31, 2010 

In case you missed it, March 3 was the second annual “Spread the Word to End the Word Day,” a movement whose mission is to make people stop and think before using the word “retard” in a hurtful and disparaging manner.

Young people, with and without mental disabilities, came up with the idea while participating in the Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit during the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games. Their message: to promote the positive contributions throughout the world that people with mental disabilities make. To stop using the R-Word would make for a more positive and accepting world, they say.

The message is getting out though. More than 500 “Spread the Word” events were held March 3 in the US, and governors in Rhode Island, California, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Utah and Idaho issued proclamations declaring March 3 “Spread the Word to End the Word Day” in their states.

The R-Word. I don’t like the word “retarded,” but I have to admit calling it the R-Word never occurred to me. But maybe they’re on to something; I’ve heard some of the nicest people say the word “retarded,” usually in a self-deprecating manner and unaware that it causes others to cringe.

But whether you’re disparaging yourself or someone else makes no difference. As the mother of two daughters with mental disabilities, one thing is certain. This is not all about political correctness.

It’s not about political correctness when it finally sinks in that your children are not going to grow up to be independent, they’re not going to get a drivers’ license, go off to college or get married.

It’s not about political correctness when your children need 24-hour supervision, that you can’t spontaneously go even to the grocery store, and that you must have a babysitter/caregiver for children in their 20s while you go to work.

It’s not about political correctness when your children behave unpredictably in public, when people stare or make unkind remarks. When the woman working in a government office told me they used to call people like my children “pinheads,” I was bewildered. How could she say such a thing?

It’s not about political correctness when your children are physically grown and strong, and you hope and pray you’ll live a long and healthy life so you can take care of them. There will be no “rest in peace” here.

It’s not about political correctness when you deal with your children’s headaches and seizures on an almost daily basis, and as much as you hate the restriction, you consider having your child wear a helmet to protect her from falls.

It’s not about political correctness when you know your child will never know the joys of reading, and is not even able to express herself in words. And you hope the child who spends hours with her crayons and papers truly gets fulfillment from it and is not simply bored.

No, it’s never about political correctness when it happens to you or someone you love.

Karan Moses Robinson is a freelance writer in Clover.

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