Did you know that once a year, every year, there is a whole day dedicated to the r-word? Did you know that once a year groups of people around the world organize events, rallies, and seminars just to talk about this particular word and the impact it has on people? Did you know that every time I hear this word said out loud I die a little inside?
The truth is, we’ve all said it. I know I have. Before I had my daughter, I was guilty of uttering this word as a way of lazily describing my feelings. How I felt about something or worse, how I felt about someone. You see, this all changed for me three years ago. At 11 weeks pregnant, I received a diagnosis that would change my life forever. Three years ago I was told our daughter would be born with Down syndrome. Now, when I say this diagnosis was life changing I don’t mean for the worse … I mean for the better.
I can wholeheartedly say that Down syndrome has been the best thing that has ever happened to me or my family. Not only because we were blessed with a beautiful, kind, funny little girl. But because having a child with special needs opens your eyes and ears to a world you never knew existed. It softens your heart, you experience a whole new level of kindness and compassion you didn’t even know you were capable of. But with that softness also comes a deep-rooted sensitivity chip that can be hard to come to terms with.
You see the “r-word” never affected me until I had my daughter. The first time I saw the word ‘mentally retarded’ I was in a doctors office and still pregnant. Was this our life now? Would I always have to check this box? Why did the word suddenly feel so disgusting? Saying it out loud or even in my head made me feel dirty. How could someone use this word to describe the sweet little girl that was growing inside of my belly? I quickly dug a pen from my purse and scribbled dark ink over the words, willing them to go away. In their place, I wrote “intellectually disabled.” It felt better, somehow.
The first time I heard the word said out loud after I had my daughter, was in a restaurant. I was sitting with my husband and our 6-month-old when a table next to us started talking about how retarded their friends were. Suddenly my heart sunk and my cheeks turned red. Not because I was mad, but because I was sad. Yes, my daughter was only 6 months old, but one day she would be 6 years old, or 16 years old. What happens then? What happens when we’re at a restaurant and she hears her classmates using that word? Will she assume they’re talking about her? How will she feel if she hears it? Will it hurt her feelings? Will HER heart sink and will HER cheeks turn red?
That day I went home and kept thinking about how I could change this? How do I make sure my daughter never has to sit at a table silently listening to someone making hurtful comments? How do I keep my daughter from being punished for something she was born with? That day I decided THIS is how.
I help by doing my part to raise awareness by talking about the “R-word.” And, I let people know their comments are hurtful. That these words we throw around so casually have an impact. They impact the little girl who has to hear them. They impact the family who has to bear the weight of them. They impact the next generation of children who have to hear their parents use them.
When you use the “R-word” to describe your friend are you referring to a specific group of people? Does that word have a face to you? Does that word have blue eyes and chunky cheeks? Does that word have a huge smile and infectious laugh that can make any day better? Because the truth is when you use that word that’s exactly who you’re referring to, whether you know it or not.
So this is what I ask of you. Join me in being the voice who helps the voiceless. Let your friends know this word is irresponsible and don’t be afraid to explain why. Join me in helping make a change for the next generation. Be an example, have courage and strength to stand up for whats right. Use your voice for good. Offer a helping hand. Teach your kids to be good friends and good human beings. Join me in helping to eliminate a word that breeds hate. Join me by signing the petition and spreading the word to end the word.