I’ll start this post off with a confession: when I was in high school, I used the words “gay” and “retarded” as derogatory terms. I didn’t intend to hurt or insult people, and I suspect that most people don’t use such language with a conscious intent to cause harm. But language is powerful, and ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the hurt is intended; what matters is that using slurs causes pain to others and reinforces social messages that say that certain types of people are worth less than others, that it is wrong to be different. Eventually (with some gentle reminders from patient friends), I decided that I wanted my language to reflect my belief that all types of people are equally valuable. The process of removing words from my vocabulary wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be when I began. I’ve successfully dropped “gay” and “retarded”, but I’m still working on getting rid of “lame.” In my experience, partnering up with a friend to eliminate offensive words together gives you both encouragement and keeps you accountable.
The Special Olympics is kicking off a new campaign today: “Spread The Word To End The Word.” The campaign is raising awareness that using the word “retarded” as an insult denigrates people with intellectual disabilities. Here in California, Governor Schwarzenegger, who is an international coach with the Special Olympics, has declared March 31, 2009, as “Spread the Word to End the “R” Word Day.” This day of awareness is a great reminder that we are fighting for inclusion and acceptance for EVERYONE. Pledging to use respectful language is a wonderful first step in building inclusive communities.
Sign the pledge today! “I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.”
Visit the Special Olympics website to read about the actions people are taking around the US to spread the word.
To see a group of high school students discussing related language issues, watch our video, What Do You Say To That’s So Gay?