By Phyllis J. Lubin
Yesterday was a complicated day. Yussie had school, followed by bowling, followed by an important meeting that required his attendance. How was it all going to happen? What made the most sense? Missing bowling was something that Yussie was not willing to do. Missing the meeting was something I didn’t want to do.
Fortunately our good friend Chava was on hand to meet Yussie at school and take him to bowling, and all we needed to do was meet up with him at Town Hall after bowling had ended. We traveled through the depths of Rockville Centre until we arrived (with the help of my handy phone GPS) at the Rockville Centre Town Hall.
As usual, we were too early. We found Yussie and Chava, and we all sat in the car to escape the cold. The predicament of being too early is complicated with Yussie, because he expects things to start right away. “Don’t be late!” he always says, so when we arrive early he thinks everyone else is late!
Finally we saw other students and their families arriving. We hopped out of the car and joined the growing crowd in the lobby of Town Hall. All of Yussie’s teachers and classmates were excited to see him, and it was nice to put faces to some of the names we hear him mention all the time.
Slowly the crowd moved upstairs, where all the children put on T‑shirts over their clothes. “Spread the Word to End the Word,” the T‑shirts said. So what was this meeting all about? Yussie’s class, the special-education class at Southside Middle School in Rockville Centre, was joining in a Town Hall meeting to stop prejudice against people with special needs. Mayor Francis X. Murray of Rockville Centre was eager to help this cause, hence he marked March 6, 2013 as “Spread the Word to End the ‘R’ Word Day,” and he announced this decision at the Town Hall meeting with the following proclamation:
WHEREAS, According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, 56.7 million people, 19% of the population, have some form of disability; and
WHEREAS, People with disabilities constitute our nation’s largest minority group, almost one in five; and
WHEREAS, This group is also the most inclusive and most diverse group: all ages, genders, religions, ethnicities . . . are represented; and
WHEREAS, When the “R” word is used without thinking to mean something stupid or bad it is hurtful to people who have disabilities and the people who love them; and it perpetuates prejudice and discrimination towards people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, This word is just as cruel and offensive as any other slur or hate speech; and
WHEREAS, The Village of Rockville Centre is working with the Life Skills Educators and Therapists at South Side Middle school to promote the acceptance and value of individuals with intellectual disabilities as equal members of society;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Francis X. Murray, Mayor of the Inc. Village of Rockville Centre, so hereby proclaim that March 6, 2013 as “SPREAD THE WORD TO END THE ‘R’ WORD DAY” in the Village of Rockville Centre, and encourage everyone to Spread the Word throughout their communities and schools to stop saying the ‘R’ word.
Although this was just proclaimed in Rockville Centre, it is such an important idea to spread throughout the world. The “R” word is unknowingly treated as a slang word and used in everyday conversation as something that it is not. We are all guilty of using it, and we probably don’t even realize how hurtful it can be.
According to dictionary.com, “retard” means “to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.); hinder or impede.” So why do people feel the need to use it as a negative word? Why should it be used to put someone down or to call something stupid? The word itself has no negative connotations, but society hears the word and cringes. We need to work to change that usage.
When originally introduced, the terms “mental retardation” or “mentally retarded” were medical terms with a specifically clinical connotation; however, the pejorative forms “retard” and “retarded” have been used widely in today’s society to degrade and insult people with intellectual disabilities. Additionally, when “retard” and “retarded” are used as synonyms for “dumb” or “stupid” by people without disabilities, it only reinforces painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities being less valued members of humanity.
Next time you hear the word used by someone to imply something bad or to put someone down, let that person know that the use of the word is unacceptable. Everyone should work on spreading the word to end the bad usage of the “R” word.
Please visit http://www.r-word.org/ to read more about the cause and become active in the movement: “Why does it hurt? The R-word hurts because it is exclusive. It’s offensive. It’s derogatory. Our campaign asks people to pledge to stop saying the R-word as a starting point toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people. Language affects attitudes and attitudes affect actions. Pledge today to use respectful, people-first language.” v
Phyllis Joy Lubin is an attorney with Maidenbaum & Sternberg, LLP, who resides in Cedarhurst with her husband, Leonard. They have six children: Naftali, Shoshana, Rivka, Rochel, Yosef, and Lea and a daughter-in-law, Nina. The author welcomes your questions and comments at MothersMusings@gmail.com.