R is for Respect

Pilar Valdes, Art Director

I have the mouth of a sailor. With two older brothers, I heard every swear you could think of, all before the age of 10. I will say just about any word in the English language, except one.

It’s not that hard. It’s one word. Six letters. You can eliminate it from your vocabulary. You can call something stupid, dumb, idiotic: the list goes on. Yet, as I walk down the halls every day I hear it over and over again. So I say:

“Hey, can you guys not say that word? My aunt has special needs so it really bugs me when people say it.”

Peoples’ usually immediately apologize. There is no need to apologize: just change your words.

By now you know what word I’m talking about. I understand where the term comes from. Before mental disabilities such as autism and Down syndrome were fully understood, anyone who was born with such a disability was classified by this term because their brains work differently than yours or mine. Even when the word was used in a medical sense, it was still thrown at these people as an insult because they were differently abled. Those mental disabilities are better understood now, they have proper medical names and there is no longer one blanket term used to describe the hundreds of disabilities one could have. With eradication of the use of the word in a medical sense, the word should have also been wiped from our vocabulary.

Sadly, this is not the case. If something we are learning in class seems like it will have no use in our future careers; it is described by this word. If your friend trips and falls down the stairs embarrassing themselves; they are called this word. If you are trying to describe someone or something in a negative way; this word is used.

Yes, words can be reclaimed. By taking what was once a slur and spinning the connotation to the positive, the word loses its power. The same cannot be said about a slur used to insult those with special needs. No one, anywhere, has any right to use a word that belittles those with special needs. Not only because it is disgusting, but also because often times, those people don’t have the mental capacity to fight back or reclaim the word.

My aunt Sarah is 47. She has the mental capacity of an 8-year-old. Would you call an 8-year old that slur? Would you call the boy with Down syndrome that I babysit that word? No. So don’t say it about my aunt, or the boy I babysit that always greets me with a hug. When your friend says something dumb and you use this word to describe their actions, you aren’t directly insulting those with special needs. You are implying that those who would have been medically described with this word are nothing more than their mental capacity. You are implying that someone is less of a person simply because they have a disability. You are implying that those with special needs are not worthy of the same respect as you or me.

People with intellectual disabilities are just that: people. People deserving and worthy of love and friendship and respect. So, stop saying it. Think before you speak. Think about my aunt, or the boy I babysit. Think about the Special Olympics basketball team and how amazing it is to see them in the All School Assembly, and how happy it makes them to have 4,000 of their classmates cheering them on. Now think about how they would feel if they knew that you were using something they have absolutely no control over—their disability—as an insult.

Don’t say it. Period. No ifs ands or buts, because the word is a slur, no matter how you spin it.

I just wrote an entire column about a word without using said word once. It’s really not that hard. Think about your words. Change your words.