There are still too many people using words that reinforce the negative stereotypes of all who struggle with disabilities. I have made an effort to avoid using certain words because they can be derogatory in nature and they undermine the efforts of all those fighting for awareness. Just the other day I overheard a conversation on the train involving the ‘R word’. These incidents always leave me both frustrated and upset at how easily people forget just how hurtful their words can be to all individuals struggling with physical and developmental delays. The term is used so loosely and it seems people either do not realize or simply do not care that the individual or family and friends of those affected may be standing nearby. I do not think people should use the word as a joke, which is exactly how the young lady on the train was using the term.
As a special needs parent, when I hear the ‘R word’ I am reminded how much more progress is still needed on the awareness front. I would imagine if all those who use the word could experience what we do on a daily basis, they may reconsider their choice of vocabulary. Since my son struggles with a significant speech delay, sensory related issues, and behavioral problems (tantrums), please do not be surprised if I refuse to laugh at a joke that seeks to further marginalize him and all those on the autistic spectrum. If others could see the look of fear and anguish on my son’s face at the doctor’s office or when he experiences a meltdown transitioning from one activity to the next, perhaps they would agree with me. How else can people really understand unless they experience the daily struggles of a special needs family? If I explain to them that they should not use the word and it is hurtful, they may feel bad for a short time and then forget all about my son or my situation a few hours later. I would like to think that as more people stand up for individuals affected by a disability, then the more people will begin to understand that our use of language is essentially ‘de-humanizing’ a portion of our society.
What do you think? The next time you hear someone using this offensive word, will you bring it to their attention?