Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Sticks and Stones... Regarding the R Word

I don't care that much about the words people choose.  I don't care about terminology.  I care about attitude.

I know what you're going to say. Words and terminology can determine attitudes, perceptions. After a lot of thought, I don't agree. I think it's the opposite.

I think Attitudes determine words.

I want spend my time and energy changing attitudes and the ways we think about and perceive each other. I don't think banning a particular word is going to do that.

I'm certainly not in favor of use of the R word. Obviously. I hate it. A few years ago a good friend used the term to refer to someone's behavior, and while I agreed that the behavior was poor, I was upset with the word. I'm sure she didn't realize it at all. I didn't call it to her attention, but I never forgot it, either. It's a word that hurts me, just like it does all the other parents out there of children with cognitive impairment.

Yes, the word needs to go away. I just don't think changing wording is going to change attitudes. I suppose it's a start, though.

So it's okay to say developmentally delayed, or cognitively delayed, or intellectually impaired, huh?  How long do you think it will be before you start hearing people say things like:

"What a dumbass.  He must be developmentally delayed."

"How could you think that?  Are you cognitively impaired?"

I bet 20 years from now, we'll hear all those things.  And worse.

I read once about how Kate Gosselin got upset because someone referred to her children as developmentally delayed. Isn't that the same thing? She heard that term and associates it negatively. To her, it's no different than calling her kids stupid, and she defended them vehemently. A perfect example of how the term developmentally delayed is headed in the same direction as the R word.

Holly once wrote about a comedian ruining her night out (wait a minute, that was 2 years ago? What???) by his repeated use of the R word. And I couldn't have agreed with her more. It's not funny, calling people retarded. My night would have been ruined too. Words can hurt. They do have power.

I would have done what she did.  I'd have written about how much I disliked his performance and I would have made sure everyone I knew and everyone they knew, heard about it. I wouldn't want him to get away with that because he promotes the idea that that is funny.

So don't go thinking I'm okay with the R word, because I'm not. There are few words that have a more quieting and disheartening effect on me. But words are not attitudes. They are not perceptions. They describe attitudes and perceptions. And I don't think we can change the world's overall perception of people with mental disabilities by forcing them to find new ways to describe them.

I support the whole ban the R word campaign. I just don't think it's enough. Something needs to be done to make the general population understand that people with mental disabilities are valuable human beings with ideas, opinions, feelings, and gifts. The perception is that they are a burden. That needs to change.  Let's figure out how to do that.

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