I’ve been thinking of how I wanted to go about writing this article for quite some time until I finally came face-to-face with the inspiration I needed to get my thoughts on paper.
A couple of weeks ago, my mom, sister, and I decided to make a quick run to get coffee. As we got on the line in the coffee shop (six feet apart, with masks on of course), I noticed a teenage boy holding hands with who I’m assuming was his father. I thought it was strange at first because, typically, you don’t see boys that age holding hands with their parents, but when I heard the boy speak, my heart broke.
It was very evident that the boy had some form of an intellectual/developmental disability. And I was so angry with myself for how quick I was to judge the affection he was showing to this other person.
As I watched the sheer joy this boy experienced when the barista handed him his icy blue beverage and donut, my heart broke further. Not because he has a disability, but because whenever I see someone with a disability of this sort, my mind spirals in thought – “I hope other people are kind to him,” “I hope life isn’t too difficult,” “I hope he is loved and is so so happy,” but more than anything, “I pray to God he has never been called a horrible name.”
I spiraled further in thought. I imagined being that boy’s father, holding his hand proudly, when a group of high school kids come in and stand on line behind us. I imagined one of these hypothetical boys saying something and his friend replying with “oh that’s so retarded.” Or even worse, they take notice of my son and I and start making jokes about how a boy their age is standing in public holding his dad’s hand.
Even as I write this, my eyes are watering because of how much respect I have for the parents of children with intellectual/developmental disabilities. I cannot imagine the worries and fears I, myself, would experience if I were in their shoes. I know for a fact I would struggle to place my faith in humanity to be good to my child when we so carelessly use a word that belittles an entire population of beautiful, valuable, and kind-hearted people.
Everyone in my life knows how I feel about the word “retarded,” (from here on out, I will refer to it as the r-word, because even typing it makes my blood boil) and it is a word that needs to be retired. The r-word is used time and time again to describe something or someone who is behaving in a way that is stupid or moronic. An idea you came up with can be the r-word. If you make a mistake, you may be called the r-word. The contexts are endless, but I’m sure you get the point.
However, in the year 2020 when Thesaurus.com is a very accessible resource, why is this word so many people’s go-to? Why are we still using a word whose original purpose was to describe someone who was mentally handicapped? And why are we using this word to insult others when people with intellectual/developmental disabilities overcome so much on a regular basis and still have such a love and appreciation for humanity? This should be a compliment. We should be honored.
But anyway, it’s time that we hold ourselves and others accountable. Let’s pick a new word to use to describe a situation – expand our vocabularies a little bit. If you hear someone using it around you, have courage and let them know that it’s unacceptable and ignorant. Challenge the norm in order to help create a new one.
Words are powerful and it is time to take the power away from this ugly one.