Thursday, December 18, 2008


I love words…well, most of the time.

I don’t watch TV all that often anymore and it seems whenever I do someone says something that gets my blood boiling. I’m thinking of one word in particular (I hear someone say it almost every time I watch a movie or turn on the TV)…

It’s seriously hard for me to say the word and since writing is also my voice, it’s honestly hard for me to even type it...You’ve all heard it a million times before. Some of you get just as angry as me when you hear it. Some of you probably use it on a regular basis, not quite understanding the pain it inflicts on parts of our society. Some of you don’t even know that it’s offensive. Have you guessed it yet?

It’s the “r-word.” Some of you are probably still thinking, “What r-word?”

Retard. There, I said it. I hate that word. Yes, I know that hate is a strong word. If there was something stronger, I’d use that. I abhor, despise, and detest that word. There, I think those words are strong enough.

Fortunately, I grew up in a household where the r-word was not allowed. To me and many others, the r-word is a swear word. I was taught that the r-word should never be uttered in reference to anyone or anything. I was taught it was hurtful. Am I perfect in my speech? Absolutely not (but more on my shortcomings later…).

Some of you may think I am overreacting, that I’m a policeman for the politically correct. (Um, I just called myself a “policeman” and that didn’t bother me). Some of you are saying, “What’s the harm?” or “It’s just a word, and besides it sounds funny.”

I’m not going to start trying to have words outlawed. I’m simply pleading with anyone who reads this to be extremely careful about the words you use. Do you know their history and where they come from? Are you inadvertently hurting someone with your speech? The r-word has an extensive history behind it and is never used in a positive manner. People with cognitive disabilities have been discriminated against – even killed – for simply being alive. Don’t get me started on the newest form of discrimination – abortion of those who might have a disability. When you call your friend a retard because they did something stupid, you’re disrespecting each and every person who has an intellectual disability.

In the past, I would have thought nothing of the words “pinhead”, “spaz”, or “spastic”…now those words stab me in my heart because I realize that those words are making fun of my son’s diagnoses. Sticks and stones may break bones, but the childhood rhyme isn’t quite accurate…words do hurt. We can ignore them, yes, but they still sting.

My Shortcomings
I’m not perfect and I know that I’ve said things I wish I hadn’t. I’m ashamed to say, I’ve even said things since Elijah was born!

Case in point…I remember almost saying the word “spaz” a few months back in reference to myself. I was about to say it when I thought, “Wait a minute…Spaz sounds an awful lot like spastic…maybe I ought to look into that.” Sure enough, a short internet search later and I discovered that Spaz was short for spastic. The tightness in Elijah’s muscles as a result of his spasticity is something he has to deal with on a daily basis. How can I describe myself in those terms and make light of his situation (and the situation of many others)?

More recently, I’ve found myself saying something else. As you all know, Elijah has developed temper tantrums. The words “he had a fit” have come out of my mouth in reference to his temper tantrums. When I’ve said it, I didn’t feel right. Another internet search and I found that indeed “having a fit” is another way of saying that someone had a seizure. It’s insulting and insensitive to make light of something as serious as a seizure. Elijah had seizures for two days straight and there are many families out there who have to deal with terrifying life-robbing “fits” each and every day.

I’m not sharing my shortcomings so that you can judge me. I’m sharing because I know that often we say things, not understanding the full implications and hurt behind them. I’ve done it too and no one is perfect. But when there are words that make fun of real medical conditions or disabilities and you use those words to describe yourself or your friends in a derogatory manner, it’s offensive.

I’m simply asking that anyone reading this will try to eliminate the r-word (and any other offensive words) from their vocabulary. It’s not funny to make fun of people with cognitive disabilities…and if that word comes out of your mouth that is exactly what you are doing…regardless of your intentions or who you are saying it to. I wouldn’t have intended to hurt anyone by saying “spaz” or “having a fit”, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is offensive.

I think it’s time we show some compassion for one another. Please pledge to not use the r-word and take the time to eliminate hurtful speech from your vocabulary.

I’ll try not to trip on the way down from my soapbox…Thanks for listening.


Karen said...

I am with you Lisa, I understand the history and the offense of. When I studied at University there was a large focus on Disability studies cause it was apart of my major, and I to saw things from another point of view and felt ashamed for letting words slip without thinking.
Although I am far from perfect, I am at least running on a heightened sense of awareness.
Thanks for sharing dude....your a special person :)

Karen Vaughan

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