Disability news, Accessibility Issues, Disability Issues, Accessiblity News

Op-ed: ‘When words wound’

August 19th, 2008

From The Roanoke Times:

John Franklin Stephens, a 26-year-old Special Olympics athlete who has Down syndrome, writes that he enjoys his life and work and explains why he is hurt by the term, “retard.” Stephens says he spent days telling his dad what he wanted to talk about, then they worked on it over and over until the article said what John meant.

So, what’s wrong with “retard”? I can only tell you what it means to me and people like me when we hear it. It means that the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like you and something that none of you would ever want to be. We are something outside the “in” group. We are someone that is not your kind. I want you to know that it hurts to be left out here — alone. Nothing scares me as much as feeling all alone in a world that moves so much faster than I do.

You don’t mean to make me feel that way. In fact, like I say in some of my speeches, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” and it works out OK most of the time. Still, it hurts and scares me when I am the only person with intellectual disabilities on the bus and young people start making “retard” jokes or references. Please put yourself on that bus and fill the bus with people who are different from you. Imagine that they start making jokes using a term that describes you. It hurts and it is scary.

Last, I get the joke — the irony — that only dumb and shallow people are using a term that means dumb and shallow. The problem is, it is only funny if you think a “retard” is someone dumb and shallow. I am not those things, but every time the term is used it tells young people that it is OK to think of me that way and to keep me on the outside.

That is why using “retard” is a big deal to people like me.

2 Responses to “Op-ed: ‘When words wound’”

  1. Jeff Goble Says:

    One of the things that made me cringe a bit, during all of this, was the generalization that the “disabled couldn’t speak for themselves”. My daughter cannot speak, however spending any time with her brings full awareness of her personhood, humanity, humor(!), and her innate dignity. I’m so glad to read this articulate statment; not from a spokesperson. Thank you.

  2. Mary Says:

    It’s interesting that John Franklin Stephens has written such a clear, honest statement on what the r word means to him, and that just above this item we find Robert Downey Jr.’s incoherent attempt at excusing his use of the word in a movie. Thank you Patricia E. Bauer for producing this blog.

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