To the Editor:
As people, our moral and ethical codes guide our daily actions. How one acts and speaks toward others can all be brought back to what we view as tolerable versus intolerable.
The mainstream use of the “R-word” (retarded) is one of those circumstances in which there is a constant battle within the community of individuals with intellectual and development disabilities, or IDD, and those who fight for them.
The “R-word” is common slang, widely used by individuals ranging from young to old with little thought of whom it may offend.
The word stems from the medical term, “mental retardation” (MR). This was introduced in 1961 and was used to diagnose individuals with IDD. Since 2010, with the passing of “Rosa’s Law,” the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” have been removed from federal health, education and labor policy.
The “R-word” can deeply insult, pain and confuse not only the individuals with IDD, but those closest to them as well. This was made obvious last year at a Special Olympics Texas (SOTX) swimming practice, when one team collectively experienced the negative impact of the word.
A community member’s use of the “R-word” directed toward a group of SOTX athletes left coaches, parents and family members infuriated, saddened and shaken. Even worse, those athletes with IDD were frightened and confused. Athletes did not want to go back to the pool and were even hesitant to attend the area aquatics competition for which they had trained so intensely.
Instead of letting the dark extinguish the light, parents, community members and athletes decided to use this pain as an opportunity to unite them to rally and fight for individuals with IDD and to pledge to eliminate the use of the “R-word.”
Special Olympics Texas will highlight some of their frontrunners fighting to eliminate the word on March 1 and throughout the month.
Unified Champion schools, community and school based delegations, various school and community groups, family members and volunteers will be challenged to take the pledge to Spread the Word to End the Word, a campaign that anyone can join at www.r-word.org.
We have a long journey to fully terminate the use of this slur; however, we can all do our part in educating those around us. We can all be a voice for inclusion, tolerance and acceptance of all people.
Although the fight is not over, we should not be discouraged. There is hope in the faces of those individuals with IDD. Focusing on their relentless spirit, resilient nature and remarkable stories will only strengthen our will to continue the fight for “Respect” — The New “R-Word.”
Special Olympics Texas