3.06.2013

Spread the Word


As most of you know, I have spent the majority of my life advocating for individuals with disabilities, so much so that I have actually made it my profession. 

There is no doubt what got me into this field. My brother. While he does not have an intellectual disability of any kind, he was born with Muscular Dystrophy {a disease that destroys the muscles in his body and has confined him to a wheelchair }and I figured if individuals with different levels of capabilities could be half as awesome as he is, I wanted to get to know them.

And so in elementary school, I began my advocating. And haven't really stopped since then. 

In fact, it has just continued to expand and touch me even more personally than it already has, as my eldest nephew began his journey of receiving his formal diagnosis just yesterday.

Working with the individuals I have {as well as my experiences with my nephew} have been some of the choicest experiences of my life ... So much so, that tears well in my eyes as I think of their greatness and the lessons they have so humbly taught me.

In some of my darkest moments, they have offered me unconditional love, joy and strength.

I know I will never be able to give as much to them as they have given to me. And while I know that is a reality, it won't stop me from trying. 

And that is what brings me here today. 

Today is the annual day of awareness of a global campaign initiated by the Special Olympics foundation, Spread the Word to End the Word.


It is difficult to find the words adequate enough to express the hurt this word makes me feel. How it makes me feel for these people who have profoundly changed my life.

I can remember so vividly an experience I had in high school. A student who had been diagnosed with Downs Syndrome was in the lunchroom, minutes before the bell had rang. He stood in line with a few other boys. As I walked in, I could hear them calling him the r-word. 

I did not know these boys, I did not know what I was going to say to them, but I knew this could not be allowed, it could not be accepted. As I began to storm in their general direction, the young man who had been diagnosed with Downs Syndrome looked those kids square in the eye and said, "No! I am not a r*****!"

I stopped dead in my tracks. And so did those punk kids.

I.was.so.proud.of.this.young.man.

Although, I will never forget the pain I saw in his eyes as the sound of that word had resonated in mind.

Another individual who has also been diagnosed with Downs Syndrome and is a global spokesman for the Special Olympics eloquently explained why this word is so hurtful. He said, "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... The hardest thing about having an intellectual disability is the loneliness. We are aware when all the rest of you stop and just look at us. We are aware when you look at us and just say, ‘Unh huh,’ and then move on, talking to each other. You mean no harm, but you have no idea how alone we feel even when we are with you.”

The word is offensive.

The word is derogatory.

The word is demeaning.

So, for my peer in high school, for every client I have ever worked with in the past decade and for my nephew, I ask you,  in regards to your use of the r-word, to END THE WORD.

And I also ask you to step outside of your comfort zone to SPREAD THE WORD TO END THE WORD.

As I have said before, many of the individuals I work with cannot speak for themselves. I have taken it upon myself to spend my lifetime advocating for them so their voices will be heard and this in one minor step in doing that today.
___

To read more that I have written about this campaign, please go here.

To read more about some of my personal experiences with these amazing people you can go here, here and here.


2 comments:

Shan said...

Amen!

Amanda Schroeder said...

You're amazing. And I couldn't agree more. Thanks for being an awesome example!

we&serendipity

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