Today, March 6, 2013, is Spread the Word to End the Word Day. Schools all across America are encouraging their students to sign a pledge to stop using the ‘R’ word. I am encouraging you to take the same action. Sign the pledge here!
A year ago, I was guilty of using that word. I never realized how it could be hurtful to others. I thought it was just an expression. I never “meant” it. Then, we were told our son has Down syndrome. We are now personally affected by the derogatory meaning of that word. Maybe we became more aware, some may even suggest we are hypersensitive, but I hear the word everywhere – While standing in line at the grocery store, online on social media sites, within my own circle of friends and family. We even heard it when we were in the NICU shortly after Eli’s birth. One of the nurses used the word to describe a computer program she was having difficulty navigating. My heart sank. My newborn son with Down syndrome was less than 10 feet away from her. I felt so much sadness, frustration, and anger. I felt guilty for ever saying the word and possibly hurting someone else by casually saying it. My intent with the word was never malicious. I know the nurse’s intent wasn’t malicious either. I know most people are not trying to be hurtful with their use of the word but we need to be more careful about the words we are using. If you wouldn’t look into the eyes of my son and say it, don’t say it about your computer. Or your dog. Or your least favorite football team. For goodness sake, just don’t say it!
Back in July I wrote about using “people first language”. For those unfamiliar with that term, or if you didn’t read that blog the first time, check it out here Public Awareness – July 15, 2012. The way you talk about a person with a disability is as important as not using the ‘R’ word. Eli is not a “Downs baby” or a “Down syndrome baby”. He is most definitely not “Down”. He is a baby with Down syndrome. He is more than his disability. Please remember to put him, and others with disabilities, first.
Many of you have not been personally affected by the negative feelings improper language can conjure up. It’s an awkward conversation to have to start with someone – especially someone you care about. Just recently, I found myself unable to speak up when someone used the ‘R’ word in front of me – in front of Eli. It’s hard to try and educate and to change the way others think. But you know what? I am not being overly sensitive. My child deserves to grow up in a world where the people that love and care about him respect him in all ways. I’ve already signed the pledge to not say the ‘R’ word but today I am pledging to speak up. I will no longer bite my tongue, too afraid or embarrassed. I will speak up on behalf of my little boy who cannot tell you himself. Words do hurt. Language does make a difference.