Spread the Word to End the Word

By Stacey Hengsterman, President & CEO of Special Olympics New York

Last week, I asked my daughter about a friend of hers and she said they weren’t really friends anymore. I asked her what happened, and she said that her friend had called my son, Alex, a retard. Alex has Down syndrome.
Last month, at a hair salon, I heard one of the stylists say she had acted “like a total retard.” 
Two weeks ago, my husband went back to an auto mechanic after he realized he was overcharged, and the person behind the desk apologized by saying the guys in the shop were “retarded.” 
March 3 is the National “Spread the Word to End the Word” Day. A day to once again remind everyone that the “r-word” is not acceptable. The r-word hurts. The r-word degrades an entire community of people. 
When you say something is “retarded,” you are saying it is stupid, slow, bizarre, insane. You are using a word that was once used as a clinical classification for people who have intellectual differences as an adjective to describe dumb situations or, worse, you are using the word as a noun and an insult. 
When I hear the r-word used, I try to help. I try to nicely explain that, while I know you didn’t mean to offend, it isn’t a smart word. I explain that this word has the power to instantly break hearts all around you and, most of the time, you won’t know whose heart you are hurting. There are mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters in every room, every conversation, that you may find yourself in. 
When you say that word, they hear you. It feels echoed and amplified. It turns a good mood bad, a light day heavy. It feels like a step backward in their long journey to advocate for inclusion and equity for themselves or the person they love. And to be honest, when they hear you say it, they look at you a little differently, too.
As a community, we will continue to be patient and understanding. We will write blogs and posts like this one, and share videos like the one below. 
I understand that at one point in your life, using this word might have been a bad habit, a lingering phrase left over from adolescence. It is not too late to correct the habit. Try an alternative word instead. When you feel the r-word creeping into your head, change it to “ridiculous.” It works just the same. 
If you hear your children use the word, I hope you react as you would if you heard them utter any other discriminatory label. I hope you tell them it is hurtful and unacceptable.
Please join us and take the Special Olympics Pledge for Inclusion. Today can be the day that you help us Spread the Word to End the Word. Once and for all.