A shift in the ‘R’ word

Amanda Hoskins

My younger brother was diagnosed with severe epilepsy when I was 4, and had brain surgery when I was just 5 years old. The surgery removed parts of his brain, making his brain not function correctly and giving him mental retardation. I have grown up in a house where the “R” word is never spoken, but in a house that understands its use in the normal everyday language.

In the shadows of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign there is a lot of talk about this “R” word. How often is it used? How many people are offended when this language is used? When is someone just “joking around?”

I am not writing to lecture you about the use of the “R” word by any means as most people do. I actually want to point out the dramatic changes that I have seen during my lifetime. When I was in middle and high school I constantly listened to my friends use the word.

I never used to make a comment the first time it was used but after hearing the word over and over again, if I felt comfortable enough I would say, “hey—could you use another word. It is kind of offensive,” and usually they understand and the conversation continues.

Over the years, I continued to hear the word being used, but instead of me saying something my friends or even just acquaintances would chime in and take my line. Sometimes I will hear the word and immediately after saying it, the people will excuse themselves and apologize for using it. With the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, more students taking part in Special Olympic programs, and working with special needs students in the community, I have seen a shift around me.

People often use the word and do not realize what they are saying. Many times the use of the “R” word is not just offensive to the group of people who are developmentally delayed or challenged, the word is offensive to the people who have a personal connection with those people.

Less and less, I am hearing the word and feeling the disappointment and sadness I used to feel when people would use the word and laugh. Trust me, I understand the word is pretty common and sometimes people just slip. I get it; I really do. But the fact that more and more people are being more conscious of what they are saying makes me very content with society and how much more accepting these special needs and mentally delayed children are in the world today.