Reprinted from March 2013
Really, it’s not funny. It’s not about being politically correct or too sensitive either. It’s about respect and dignity. If asked, with a huge smile Rachel will tell you the R-Word is Rachel and she will spell if for you. If you spell it Rachael, she will tell you that is wrong. She will inform you that her name is spelled like Rachel in the Bible and that’s the right way. She might tell you R is for Respect. She understands what that means. When we made this sign last night I asked her if she knew what the R-Word was and she told me no, “I don’t remember.”
I told her it was the one talked about in her “Just Like You” video and that it was not respectful. It is used to make fun of people. “Oh. I remember that.” Truth is she has managed to be sheltered from hearing that word very much and when she does hear it, it doesn’t register that it is a disrespectful slur used to make fun of people with intellectual disabilities.
What I don’t get is why anyone thinks it is funny to use the R-Word? The word is directed at the least of these. It is directed at people who need the most help in our society. It is directed at individuals who by no fault of their own haven an intellectual disability. Why is that funny or appropriate? As a 4-H member, members learn that the H’s on the four leaf clover stand for the equal training of the head, hands, heart and health. You learn that the heart is to be “kind, true and sympathetic.” That is Rachel. She is inherently kind. She is true. She is fiercely loyal to her friends. She regularly complements others. She loves others. She is sympathetic and sensitive. She wants everyone to be happy. Rachel works twice as hard to do half as much as many of her peers in her academics. She has to work hard to follow fast-paced conversations. She rarely complains though. She has joy and it is evidenced by her smile. One day last week, a lady came up to us and said, “Weren’t you the mirror in “Beauty and the Beast”?” Rachel smiled and said yes. The lady replied, “I knew it. You have the best smile.” Rachel flashed it and said thank you. Rachel was thankful to have the part of the mirror. She is appreciative of the opportunity to be in a play and to have any part. So when you use the R-Word, this is the person you are degrading, devaluing and disrespecting.
And as long as Hollywood, the media, healthcare professionals, educators (including special education teachers and administrators), church members, peers, friends, parents and the general public use the R-Word and allow it to be used, people like Rachel will be second class citizens. They will not be treated with dignity and respect. As I like to say, they will not be able to live real lives. So can someone please explain to me why it is so funny to use the R-Word?
And before you forget, go on and click on this link and Take the Pledge to End the Use of the R-Word. Send it to 10 friends. Don’t do it for me. Do it for the 400,000 American with Down syndrome. Do it for the 6.5 million people in the United States who have intellectual disabilities.
Do it for Rachel and yourself.