The Impact of Our Words

Mar 08, 2011
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Our words carry so much meaning – sometimes even meaning that we don’t fully understand. Often times, we say things or use phrases that we’ve heard others use before but don’t have a solid understanding of the meaning behind it or the bigger message that we are sending by saying it.

I think that is often the case with the word “retard.” I don’t think people really understand how offensive and hurtful that word can be – and how it perpetuates damaging stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities. At least I hope they don’t. Because I don’t know how to accept a world full of people that would intentionally do that. I can accept that it’s from a lack of education or awareness – because there’s a lot we can do about that. But to think that it is simply mean-spirited is too much.

I know that I didn’t always get it – and to some extent I’m sure I still don’t totally get it…not in the same way that others do. I remember vividly as a kid that we were NEVER allowed to use the r-word in our house. My mom has always worked in the disability field, and was committed to giving us some sort of awareness and understanding about disability. But even though it was against the rules and my mom was constantly reminding us that it was not ok to use that word, we still did it. Not because we were trying to be mean to people with disabilities, but because it was a word that everyone used and we didn’t really understand the difference. As I’ve grown older and spent more time working and studying in the disability field as well as living with family members who have disabilities, my understanding has changed. I must admit, though, that there are still moments when I have to consciously stop myself from letting that word come out of my mouth. I’m ashamed to acknowledge that I would even think to use it. Old habits die hard. But now I do get it (enough)….and now my use of that word wouldn’t just be out of ignorance…it would be out of laziness…a choice to not think before I speak. Even if my intention is not to be derogatory or mean-spirited…even if it really is just out of habit…I am still responsible for the words that come out of my mouth and the impact they have on other people.

That is why I am in full support of campaigns that are trying to raise awareness and end the use of the “r-word.” I encourage you to check out some of the things that are being done to tackle this problem. A few examples are below.

Author: Carolyn