(This blog got caught up in the massive storm that was too many things scheduled, so I wanted to finally get it up. Because it does matter.)
Before each class, I told them that they were my captive audience, and that they had to listen to me get up on my soapbox.
I went into my spiel about spreading the word, tell them about the term ID, and asking them to check out the website and take the pledge.
In my second class of the night, I had a 14 year old student. When I told delivered my speech to him, he said. “Wow. Uh. I’ve said retarded like a dozen times so far today.”
Did I do that, too, when I was 14?
I don’t remember doing it, but, then again, I also don’t remember the time that I answered every test question with the word “frog.” (I apparently did that. One of my friends reminded me about it. I still don’t remember doing it, but it definitely sounds like something I would have done in high school)
I asked my student to think about it and check out the website. Maybe even share it around.
And I thought – what if this website, and this idea of respect for those with disabilities, had existed 30 years ago?
What if it’d seen something like it?
Would it have affected my word use?
My friends and their word use?
Will it affect him?
When I hear it in movies, I cringe every time. Doesn’t matter if it’s an old movie or a new movie. Doesn’t matter if it’s appropriate to the character’s personality.
I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to get rid of the stigma and the insult based on intellectual disabilities, but we can spread the word to end the word.
And maybe that will reduce the number of times I cringe when I read Facebook posts, watch movies, read books, or talk to strangers and acquaintances.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that I’m going to find insensitive people just about everywhere. But I didn’t expect to find them in out-patient therapy. (If you want to know why I’m currently in out-patient therapy, you can check out my other blog about my mental issues…)
Anyway, so the other day in therapy, while she was talking, one of the other women – let’s call her Zelda – said that her brother was Autistic, and he was around her age. She’s about 60, ready to retire, and he’s living at home with their parents still. She pointed out that, at the time, they didn’t have much they could do to help him, but she felt like it was better now. She commented that he was the family’s project. I thought about talking to her then, but I decided against it.
So the topic was put to bed, and no one else talked about it…until…
Something came up, and she asked me, before therapy started, about whether or not I had any children. Of course, I said, yes, I have a son, he’s 13, and he’s Autistic. Zelda asked a few questions, and when I explained that he was fairly moderate to severe on the spectrum, she said, “Oh, that’s bad.”
“No, it’s not,” I corrected her. “It’s not bad at all. It’s just what he is.”
She back-pedaled. She didn’t mean it *that* way, you know. She was only trying to say that she knew it was hard. Okay, I’ll take that. It’s hard on him. It’s hard on us. It’s hard on his teachers. It is hard. But it’s not bad.
Which might be why I was already in the fight-or-flight mode when another woman, let’s call her Aileen, said that she was there because of anxiety and her family. Her family drove her crazy, she said. They wouldn’t leave her alone. Even when she tried to take a walk by herself, they wanted to come with her.
“It’s so retarded.”
Yup. She said that. About the fact that her family wanted to be around her all the time.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that they’re stupid for wanting to be around her all the time. But I do think she’s pretty uninformed to use the r-word in a psych setting.
But no one said anything. Not even the therapist leading the session.
Because I’m not one to shy away from confrontation when it’s appropriate, I went ahead and raised my hand.
“Hey,” I said, “I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but, see, I’m part of this movement. Spread the word to end the word. The word is retarded. I know you just said it, but that’s kind of the problem. It’s pretty insulting to use it as an insult. My son has intellectual disabilities, and so I’m kind of sensitive to hearing it…”
I know I said more than that, and she looked a bit surprised.
I brought up the need to be respectful of all people, and I pointed out how if she was had said something that insulted another group of people, I still would have brought it up because it is disrespectful to insult anyone, especially if they’re not there to defend themselves.
She was cool with it. She apologized, said she hadn’t meant it that way, and said that she normally tries to be careful because she had a cousin with…and she stumbled over it (because I guessed she hadn’t heard it before)…intellectual disabilities.
And then the therapist got involved and made sure that she was okay with me calling her out and asked if I often did that, and I said that, yes, yes, I did. All the time. Because it was important to realize that insulting people because of their disabilities was not okay, and like none of us would like it if we were turned into negative slang, we shouldn’t do it to other people.
I hadn’t expected to have to defend myself, or my correction of someone who used a word as an insult, but there you go. You never know when – or if – you’re going to have to speak up. So don’t be shy. If someone says it, tell them.