Guest Post by Joe Morrone:
We’ve all heard people tell us that words don’t hurt or they only hurt us if we allow them to. I think, at one point, I may have believed that or at least wanted to believe it. However as we celebrate End the Word Day on March 2nd, I no longer believe that one word cannot hurt someone more than we would like to imagine.
I grew up with Cerebral Palsy which is a motor/muscular condition resulting from damage to that area of the brain. Luckily, my case is mild and I have lived a very happy, productive and “normal” life to this point. By the way, we should end the word normal as well but that is for a different day. Burned into my memory is the first time someone called me the “R” word. I was 10 and it was my first year in a public school, we were at recess and all the kids were playing football. As I loved football, still do, I went over to see if I could play? One of the kids looked at me and said, “We don’t let R’s play.” To be honest I wasn’t even sure what the word meant at the time but it still hurt because I knew it wasn’t a good thing. I remember telling a teacher and she gave me the whole, “sticks and stones” speech. Didn’t make me feel better then and didn’t make me feel better the next 100 times I was called that either.
Now, of course, I have a full understanding of the word and the power that it carries. Too many people don’t think about the power of the word and use it in everyday conversation. For example it is not crazy for someone to say, “You are goofy” to describe someone being silly. However I’ve heard the “R” word substituted for goofy and I believe the people using it think it means basically the same thing. Obviously it does not; the word is one of the most demeaning and insulting words in the English language. The Encarta’s Dictionary definition is: an offensive term that deliberately insults somebody with a learning disability or somebody regarded as unintelligent. As bad as that definition sounds, it still doesn’t encapsulate the damage that the word can do to those who are on the receiving end.
The “R” word exists in our world and although I do believe it is used less and less every year, we still have work to do. The work that is being done through Special Olympics and the website http://www.r-word.org/ is a great start but the real work has to be done by all of us. It begins at home with parents teaching their kids about all differences and how the words we choose effect those around us. It is people being willing to speak up when they hear the “R” word and say, “that’s not right.” On this End the Word Day, I challenge you to find a way to contribute to the cause.
As with any movement that has ever mattered or made a difference, it begins with you!
Joe Morrone graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in Sociology and has worked in the field of Developmental Disabilities for 18 years. He prides himself on being an advocate for the rights of the those with Developmental Disabilities and has dedicated his professional life to the field.