Wednesday, March 2, 2011


A Pastor speaking to hundreds of teens at Youth Camp, proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ, smiled and said, "I did something slightly retarded the other day." The kids laughed heartily. I cringed, and then I nearly cried. I felt as if someone had stuck a knife in my chest.

I'm curious. What if he had replaced the "r" word with the "n" word? He would have been fired on the spot, and rightly so. It's an ugly, offensive, and demeaning word. It devalues real people, and causes many to feel like they're less than everything God created them to be. It's an unfair, outdated and mean-spirited slur. Yet how many of you... yes, you reading right now throw around the "r" word like it's some sort of joke? Let me assure you, it's not.

I'm guessing I lost just about half of today's readers right there. For the rest of you, I'm not condemning you. You don't owe me or my friends with intellectual disabilities an apology. But when you understand the truth, that the "r" word is hurtful, demeaning, and cruel, you have a responsibility. Please... stop using it. Just stop. It's not funny. It never has been.

The fact is, the disability community is the one community any of us can join at any time. Ask Christopher Reeve's family. Ask Joni Eareckson Tada. Ask anyone in a nursing home who sits in a wheelchair all day, unable to get around on their own. One wrong turn in your car today, and you could be a part of an exclusive club you never planned to join. How funny are the short bus and Special Olympics jokes now that you're the one using leg braces or a wheelchair?

My son has a disability. He doesn't need anyone's pity. He deserves our respect. He has autism, but he is certainly not "autistic" any more than a person who has cancer is "cancerous." His disability doesn't define him. His smile and infectious laugh are his gifts to us. And certainly, his differences are not a cause for ridicule and mean-spirited comments.

To anyone reading today who will pledge to stop using the "r" word, I thank you. I applaud you. To those who maintain that it's just another word, and that's what "those" people are and they shouldn't be offended, I'll say this. People with intellectual disabilities, particularly those with Down's Syndrome are among the happiest, luckiest, most content, and non-judgmental people I've ever known. So if you want to label them ret-----, that's your choice. I can only hope that you'll learn to be just as wise, happy, and content with your world, so that you can be labeled ret----- as well. But I'm not holding my breath. Prejudice comes in many forms.

Please. Help spread the word to end the word.

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