As some of you may know, I have a sister with an intellectual and developmental disability. She is the most amazing, kind, loving, interesting, and determined person I know. She has a strength and ease about her that I could only imagine. All of this in spite of her difficulties with seizures, cerebral palsy, limited speech, countless medications, and -- worst of all -- ignorance and lack of awareness of others.
If you watch the Colbert Report on cable T.V., you probably have seen Tim Shriver talking about the “R-Word Campaign." The R-word is the word retarded. Many organizations such as the Special Olympics, The Arc, and actors Johnny Knoxville and John C. McGinley (Dr. Cox on Scrubs) have all joined the campaign to bring awareness to our country about the effects of the r-word. So many people say this word without even thinking twice, not ever thinking it hurts anyone, but it does. This campaign to stop the r-word is not to force you to change, but an appeal for you to choose your words carefully. Mr. Shriver said it best when he said, “You are allowed to be humiliating, degrading, and hurtful. I am allowed to petition you to be aware and give you the option to stop."
I'm not asking you to stop; I understand it can be hard to change your everyday language. I just ask that you be open to considering if it is really a word you need to say. For so many years I have sat by and not said anything to even my closest of friends and family about how awkward and hurt I feel when they use the r-word. Even in a casual comment referring to how stupid an assignment is, or how annoying the person in line was earlier that day, the r-word hurts.
It hurts to think that a word that may medically describe my sister is used to describe something as negative or undesirable.
It hurts to know that people think of my sister as subhuman, not smart, or scary. The r-word brings all of these emotions up.
It hurts beyond words to know that my sister knows when someone is making fun of her or treating her unfairly because of her difference, but she can't tell them to stop.
I proudly claim that I am a part of their movement. Not only because it hurts me, but because I have a voice when my sister and so many others don't.
I just ask you to be aware. You never know who is around you, and who you could hurt with your statements.
I know I may sound like an “everybody love everybody" sap, and I know we can't always love everybody, but wouldn't it be great if we could at least try to understand and respect everybody?
Kelsey Gray is a college student at McPherson College, in McPherson Kansas. She works for and is a writer for the student newspaper, Spectator.