When I was asked if I would write something for today's observance of Spread the Word, To End the Word, I decided to finish and make public a poem I have been working on for a while. I have modeled it on my favorite poem by Robert Frost.
The use of the R-word may seem harmless enough -- until real people get hurt. That one simple word affects people deeply. It hurts people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, it hurts their families and it hurts their friends.
For many people my age, the word 'retirement' has even worse connotations. One of my friends shrivels her nose whenever the topic comes up, as if the very word contains a whiff of nursing home. For my husband, the word is freighted with images of ancients in Florida.
Even after having Pip, close people in my life still use the word without thinking. And while I'm not normally an "R-Word Crusader," I do have to honestly admit I cringe inside each and every time I hear it said.
According to some of my friends who are athletes in Special Olympics, when they hear the word 'retard' being used in that context, they feel hurt, anger, sadness, disgust -- and I even heard "It's like a knife cutting into my heart."
When the people we entrust with our health and wellbeing use the term "retarded," they grant legitimacy to a word that has been deemed offensive by the culture at large. They cause harm to the very people they have pledged to heal.