As many of you probably know, after the presidential debate earlier this week Ann Coulter tweeted out that she approved of "Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard." I can’t really explain to you in words how this tweet made me feel. My heart sank a little, I had trouble comprehending her words because I can’t fathom someone being so ignorant and insensitive, and then I got so mad my hands started shaking. All I could think about was that awful July afternoon when Kevin and I sat in the doctor’s office and listened as we were told that Jackson would more than likely have some form of mental retardation. Unless you’ve heard those words describe your child, you cannot fully grasp the severity of devastation the “R” word brings to your life. My hatred for that word is so deep I can literally feel it in my bones.
When I look at my son I see a beautiful, funny, silly little boy. Granted, after 4 years the kid is still a mystery to me. I know he understands more than he lets on, but to what extent I don’t know. He has different cries/yells for different things (pain, uncomfortable, bored, tired, etc.) that I am able to decipher. But if it is his pain cry I am often at a loss as to what is hurting him. He may not be able to walk but he knows how to get to where he wants to go. He rolls, sits up, turns around and ultimately reaches his destination and sometimes ends up in a place he didn’t even know he wanted to go to. Jackson just has a different way of doing things and that surely doesn’t make him less of a person. By no means does any of this make him a retard. To imply so would be saying that he isn’t worthy of respect, fair treatment, and decency. Things he deserves just like any other child.
Last month I started a 7 month long class on how to become a better advocate for disabled persons. I am taking this class because I not only want to be the best advocate I can be for my son, but also because I want to work with parents of special needs children someday. I want to help other parents navigate the journey I am on. Our first weekend of class we talked about something called People First Language. The premise is to ensure inclusion, freedom, and respect for all we must use language that doesn’t reinforce attitudinal barriers. For example, instead of saying the handicapped or disabled we should be saying people with disabilities or instead of saying he/she is mentally retarded say he/she has a cognitive disability. When we talked about this in class I kind of thought it was a no brainer, but then as we did more examples of words to use I realized that even I used words that weren’t people first friendly. What I realized is that our language system has changed over the years. Words that were once commonplace, are now socially unacceptable. Quite frankly I believe that is a good thing. My best friend is a beautiful black woman, I would never, ever, call her a nigger. Kevin’s best friend is gay, I would never, ever call him a fag. Just writing these words bother me profusely. Jackson has taught me that we are all just human beings. We are not black, white, blond, brown eyed, tall or short. We are just human beings. We don’t need to separate one group of people from another. And we surely do not need to attach hurtful words to describe one group of people from another.
A part of me (the emotional part) wants to hunt Ann Coulter down, kick her in the shin and punch her in the face, hopefully breaking her nose. I really, really do. The more logical side of me would like her to meet Jackson. Let her see what a cute, cool kid he is. Then ask her to call him a retard to his face. If she did it then we would know that she is really an evil person with no heart or conscience. If she couldn’t do it, then maybe we could change the way she views others and uses her words. In the meantime, I ask all of you to think about the words you use to describe others. Think of some of the hurtful words we have used over the years. Then make a conscious effort to change. Most of all, spread the word that the “R” word just isn’t okay. If someone says it, tell them about Jackson. Make them realize that the word is not necessary and there are other words that can be used. We are able capable of making a difference. Jackson has made a difference and touched so many lives. If a 4 year old can do it, then you can too.
Visit http://www.r-word.org/ and like them on Facebook. Then ask your friends to do it too! The more we spread the word, the more we can end the word!