Words matter. The right word can inspire. The wrong word can discourage. One word can hurt millions of people.R(etard).
I first wrote about the campaign Spread the Word to End the Word in 2009. And today, as I write this, one day before the annual push by Special Olympics to get people to pledge to stop using this disparaging word, it made me pause to think whether the campaign has had an impact. My answer: yes, but we’ve still got a ways to go.
In a 2009 Press Box in this paper I wrote:
“I’ve often heard the R-word used casually as a putdown, as in “You’re such a retard,” or “Don’t be so retarded.” Friends and colleagues have used this word. A few realize a little too late that it is probably especially offensive to me. I hear teenagers dropping it as frequently as the F-word.
Sadly, I’ve also heard it used to directly ridicule intellectually disabled individuals. I’m not sure which is worse—the casual use of the word as an insult, or the intentional use of the word to be cruel to someone who probably doesn’t even understand your invective. In my experience, intellectually impaired people are hardwired with an innocent kindness and would simply smile in return. As the parent of a child with significant challenges, I feel the pain of such words for him. It makes it clear just how daunting the future is for people like him.”
The simple goal of the R-word campaign is to get people to just stop and think before they use the word. The broader goal is to change attitudes. It’s about respect. It’s about understanding what it means to have a disability. We all lose when we diminish all that people with disabilities have to offer. People with intellectual disabilities teach us about ourselves. How we react to people who are different from us, especially those who are more vulnerable, says so much about who we are. I was raised to champion the underdog, and that helped prepare me for the world of special needs that I was thrust into—but I’ve learned a lot about myself since it really started to matter.
Yes, there is still much work to be done when it comes to changing attitudes about people with disabilities but I am hopeful that day will come. In my journey with my son, I have met many people who are helping to light the way.
In local news, Dennis Bontempo of Water Mill will be among the exhibiting artists in the Southampton Artists Association’s winter art show at the Southampton Cultural Center through March 16. A reception is set for this Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. Dennis will have his beautiful photographs on display.
The Watermill Center is partnering with the Organizacion Latino Americana (OLA) of Eastern Long Island to host a series of kids workshops highlighting the work of Latin American East End artists. Each workshop is free and open to the public. The workshops, geared toward children age six and up, will highlight the creative process of Walter Purizaca (March 15), professional flute maker and composer; Darlene Charneco (March 22), contemporary mixed-media artist; and Constance Sepulveda-Manias and Zaida Adriana (March 29 and 30), textile artists. Visit www.watermillcenter.org for more information.
Stop by the Hampton Coffee Company in Water Mill for a bit of the Irish. All month long, the espresso bar and café is celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with two specially-themed beverages. The Leprechaun Latte, which tastes like chocolate mint, and Irish Crème-flavored coffee. Plus, enjoy free samples of the Irish Crème coffee every morning until lunchtime.