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Why I Pledge

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Why I Pledge

Students signed a banner to symbolize taking the pledge

Students signed a banner to symbolize taking the pledge

Students signed a banner to symbolize taking the pledge

Students signed a banner to symbolize taking the pledge

Rebecca Joskow, Guest Writer

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“That’s retarded”– I hear it in the media, in the halls and even out of the mouths of my own peers and teachers. Every time I hear the r-word, or “retarded,” I feel sick to my stomach knowing that there is still so much progress to be made toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The unfortunate truth is that the r-word has poisoned the vocabulary of so many. How many times a day do you or someone you know mindlessly use this word in casual conversation? More importantly, how often do you take the time to consider the impact that it has? Whether you realize it or not, your language affects people and your word choice has implications. Words hurt. They matter. They do. They always have. And they always will.

When you use the r-word, you are isolating an entire population of people as well as the people who love and support them. Even if you are not referring to a person with disabilities, using the r-word is never okay. You are reinforcing the concept that people who have disabilities are inherently less, that being compared to them is insulting, that they deserve to be excluded and treated with ridicule. Many people do not understand that the r-word is hate speech, but that is exactly what it is. Your preemptive dismissal of people with IDD, your dehumanization of them, your mockery of them, it’s nothing but another form of discrimination. Throughout history, words have been used to marginalize entire groups of human beings. It is unfortunate that today words are still used to dehumanize people, to limit them and to tuck them under a label of “stupid” or “dysfunctional.”

I have been lucky enough to meet some of my best friends who have IDD through Best Buddies — a club that aims to bridge the gap between people with and without disabilities through meaningful friendship. To me, Best Buddies is everything. It has and continues to change my perspective about everything I thought I knew about people with disabilities and opening my eyes to their amazing capabilities and differences. It is showing me that friendship is mutual and that I have just as much to learn from my buddies as they do from me. It is Owen, Javier, Terrence, and Lia, my buddies throughout the years who have inspired me with their unconditional love and unique qualities. It is leading over 100 of my peers toward a more inclusive future.

It is today– Spread the Word to End the Word Day, the international campaign encouraging people to eradicate the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday language. It is becoming an advocate and urging all of you through my own words to unite and pledge your support in building a world of acceptance and inclusion. The beginning of change starts with you. Without correcting the people who so inappropriately use this word, they will never learn about the community they are offending. Doing the right thing isn’t always the easy thing; it takes courage to make a real difference. It starts with taking steps to remove this slur from common vocabulary by standing up to the people who spread hurt and encouraging them to spread respect instead.

I dream of a world where it is not a scary thing to tell people not to say the r-word; a world where people like me who are offended by the r-word are in the majority, and the r-word users are in the minority: a world where it is looked down upon to say the r-word instead of to speak out against it. In my role as a leader, I will continue to speak up for what I believe and encourage my fellow students to start a chain reaction to build this better world. Every human being has a gift and the world would be a much better place if people recognized this. Join me in effectuating change by pledging to spread the word to end the word at r-word.org!

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