Monday, February 15, 2010

The Bigotry Behind the Word "Retard"

Tim Shriver (Chairman of Special Olympics) wrote an op-ed in today's Washington Post The bigotry behind the word "retard" -- countering this piece The case against banning the word "retard". Needless to say, the controversy over the use of the word is heated -- those who view the disability community's push for an end to the use of the word as limitations on our "freedom of speech" or even "censorship" vs. our community's strident efforts to strike the word's use because it's hurtful, offensive, and is building a dismissive attitude against those with intellectual disabilities.

On a personal note, I feel the term "mentally retarded" or any form of it, belongs to US as so eloquently pointed out by Diane Grover of the [Toronto] Canada Free Press in her essay It's personal; Grover is the mother of a daughter with Down syndrome. As painful as it sometimes is, it is something WE live with because although it does not define Lucas, it is a part of his genetic makeup. In the same way only black people are entitled (right or wrong) to use the belongs to THEM and out of respect, those of us with no experience for the prejudice and pain it causes have no right to use it.

Here are a few excerpts from Shriver's piece:
  • Seventy to 90 percent of people with intellectual disabilities in the United States are estimated to be unemployed.
  • Special Olympics studies reveal that more than 60 percent of Americans don't believe that children with intellectual disabilities should be educated in their child's school.
  • Investigations have revealed people with intellectual disabilities as the victims of abuse, indifference and negligent death.
But for our part, we are trying to awaken the world to the need for a new civil rights movement -- of the heart. We seek to educate people that a crushing prejudice against people with intellectual disabilities is rampant -- a prejudice that assumes that people with significant learning challenges are stupid or hapless or somehow just not worth much. They're, um, "retarded." And that attitude is not funny or nuanced or satirical. It's horrific.

In the end, all I want is for Lucas to have the same opportunities we are all entitled to as citizens of a free world. And, for that, I will fight the stigma, the hatred, the stereotypes that see him and others like him as a label, and I will speak up against the use of that ugly, ugly word.

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