Thursday, December 10, 2009

More on the R-Word

You may already know that Sen. Michulski introduced legislation to ensure that future federal legislation uses person first language a couple of weeks ago.

What you may not know is that this story has been playing out in my region as well. This summer one of our county legislators was recorded calling another an 'r-word' during a roll call vote.

Nice, huh?

In early August there was a cross-disability press conference and a protest at a meeting of the County Legislature where I spoke. Here is what I said:

Recently someone in this chamber was recorded using the r-word... and sadly, no one was recorded saying, "Hey, we don't use that word here!"

There is no minority who would accept this sort of disrespect, and the disability community should not have to either.

It was a mistake, I know. And before my daughter was born with Down syndrome I can't say that I "got" disability either. My life experience has taught me a lot.

Fortunately you do not have to wait for life to gift you with disability for you to become aware and respectful of disability issues.

There are many ways you can learn about disability and many actions you can take to improve yours and our community's awareness:

*You can seek training from any of the many agencies that support people with disabilities in our area.

*You can support agencies and people with disabilities personally and through legislation.

*Most of all, you can get to know people with disabilities. Without them your knowledge of the strengths and needs of our community is incomplete.

If you follow these steps a mistake like this will never happen here again, and the disability community and those that love them will thank you.

In closing I would like to quote Eunice Kennedy Shriver who founded Special Olympics and died yesterday. These are the kinds of words we want to hear from our leadership about disability:

"You are the stars and the world is watching you.

By your presence you send a message to every village, every city, every nation.

A message of hope.

A message of victory.

The right to play on any playing field? You have earned it.

The right to study in any school? You have earned it.

The right to hold a job? You have earned it.

The right to be ANYONE's neighbor? You have earned it!"

Thank you.

This week the Monroe County Legislature is slated to introduce Person First Language Legislation stating that future legislation will be crafted using person-first language. I wasn't able to be there last night and I don't know what happened.

I'll let you know how that goes!

(The video is a bit long, but really worth watching!)


Terena said...


Rob said...

With all due respect, I think the disability community focuses way too much on this issue. And I wouldn't be so sure about getting pc training from advocacy groups. I worked for one for two years and was treated like a poster child, but believe me they all had pc language down pat! Here's one of my posts:

Still love the blog!

Terri said...

Thanks Terena and Rob.

Rob, I recognize that many people dismiss concern about the R-word as PC. I don't. My friends with intellectual disabilities do not feel that way at all.

You might note that concerns about language accompany the civil rights fights for every minority--gender, racial, etc.

It asks a lot of people--interrupt your usual patterns... yet it is small and cheap enough to make it doable...

Can people talk right and think wrong... of course.

And people can attend church for years without internalizing that, but believers still want you there because it can be a first step to change...

Among other things, I work to engage parents in larger disability issues and this usually an issue that engages folks.

I do certainly agree that it isn't enough by itself.

Thanks for sharing!

starrlife said...

Happy New Year to you and Yours!

Megan said...

I guess it should be surprising that the r-word has wound up in legislation. The word is thrown around with too much ease, as well as things like "that's gay." Hearing these words is like nails on a chalk board, and I can't help but to tell people to use a different word. Unfortunately, many people only understand the derogatory meaning of these words if they know someone with an intellectual disability or who are homosexual. I think advocating on behalf of not using these words is extremely important. I have friends who don't understand why they shouldn't use words like this, and feel that the disability community is infringing on their rights of free speech. There has to be away to get individuals to understand, even if it's one person at a time! Great post!

Terri said...

Thanks and Happy New Year to you too, Starlife!

Thanks Megan, I agree. Namecalling is wrong for any group--and change is a process (and I think it's worth engaging in too!)