Tag Archives: Special Olympics

the one

r-word.org

I spent considerable time yesterday looking for my friend’s words.

They matter. I want to get them just right. It is important to me.

But they’ve gone missing, as many words tend to do in the abyss of Facebook posts, in the land where words get shortened to acronyms and emoticons stand in for what we really mean.

My friend wrote about how she was trying really, really hard to stop saying “retarded.” That she knew how hurtful and wrong it was, about how offensive it was to people with disabilities and those who loved them.

(I really wish I had her exact words.)

Of course, I clicked “like” on her post.

Of course I did.

When we worked together several years ago, this friend was a habitual offender in the misuse of the r-word. There’s a slight generational gap between us. She’s part of a demographic that supposedly grew up using the r-word to mean something other than someone with a developmental disability. But to me, that’s the only definition that there possibly can be.

During the years we worked together, my son was in a preschool classroom with other 4 year old children like him who also had autism and special needs. It was easy to tell that my son was different: he didn’t transition well, he didn’t take kindly to new surroundings or changes in his routines (even those as seemingly mundane as needing to take a different road home because of a traffic accident), he didn’t interact well with his peers.

My coworker knew about my son. Everyone in our small office did; we were in the black hole years of finding our way through therapies and special education and fighting insurance companies and paying out of pocket to help him. I was fortunate to have a boss who was highly supportive of people with disabilities and who welcomed my son into the office on occasion.

When my friend posted her Facebook comment about trying not to say the r-word as often, I thanked her for doing so. It is an important first step.

And then she surprised me.

She said it was because of working with me that she realized how hurtful that word was.

And for once, I didn’t have any words.

I thought back to what I did back then – and what I didn’t do –  because I don’t know what made the difference for my friend, if it was one thing or a combination of things. Whether it was because of seeing my son in the office on occasion or our boss starting to change the culture in terms of the language. I don’t remember having a one-on-one conversation with my coworker about this. I know that I certainly should have. (See “How to Discuss the R Word with Others”)

What I do know is this:

Sometimes change (in the world and in people) is slower than we would like it to be.

Sometimes even when we feel like we are making progress and think that others finally get it and understand, we still feel a gut-punch when someone we love uses the r-word.

And that sometimes, we are having an effect on people even when we don’t realize it.

We all have the one friend or relative or coworker like mine. The one who uses the r-word too often and the one we struggle to find the words to tell that it isn’t okay. Perhaps you recognize yourself or someone you know in this post. Today is the annual day of awareness of the hurtful use of the r-word.  It is time we Spread the Word to End the Word and build awareness for society to stop and think about its’ use of the R-word. 

Starting today. 


My previous Spread the Word to End the Word posts:

It’s Not Just Another Word  (March 7, 2012)

Today’s the Day (March 31, 2009)


Most people don’t think of this word as hate speech, but that’s exactly what it feels like to millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and friends. The R-word is just as cruel and offensive as any other slur. 

We’re asking every person – young and old – to help eliminate the demeaning use of the R-word–a common taunt used to make fun of others.  Often unwittingly, the word is used to denote behavior that is clumsy, hapless, and even hopeless.  But whether intentional or not, the word conjures up a painful stereotype of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  It hurts. Even if you don’t mean it that way.

Language affects attitudes. Attitudes impact actions. 

Make your pledge to choose respectful people first language at www.R-word.org.

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It’s Not Just Another Word

“That’s so retarded.”

How many times have you heard someone say this, or some variation of this?

Pretty often, I’d imagine. Because I’ve heard it too. From everyone. It’s not a figure of speech flung by teenagers. I’ve heard this from former coworkers.

From our friends.

From our family.

You’ve heard it and I’ve heard it. And, it is just a matter of time before my son, who has autism, hears it too.

Maybe he already has. He’s in 4th grade; it’s quite possible. It’s possible that he’s even heard it in reference to him.

Someday he’ll ask me – because he always asks me; he is full of questions, especially about words – what that word means. He’s like that, curious about words. Their meanings, their spellings, how and why they are used.

And I have no idea what I will say.

I’ll probably explain it to him similarly as I did when I told him he has autism. Trust me, as a parent, you get intimately acquainted with a special kind of heartbreak when you get to tell your little boy that his brain works differently, that he has something called autism, that even the best doctors don’t quite exactly know why you were born with this, that this is the reason why some people don’t understand why you act differently than other kids, that you will have this (to some degree) to the rest of your life.

You want to hold him and protect him for the rest of his life as his blue eyes fill with tears, absorbing this. You know that you can’t.

You know that that word and the people who use it so casually and cavalierly are out there. Closer than you think.

I don’t really understand the logic behind using this word. I’ve heard the reasons (and excuses, really) why it happens.

It’s just a figure of speech. It means stupid. 

I don’t know what I was thinking. 

Oh, I wasn’t referring to YOUR son. 

Lighten up. It’s just a word.

It’s not just a word. Trust me on this.

It is Not. Just. Another. Word.

For in the minds and hearts of those with developmental disabilities and those of us who love them, it is a word with searing-hot and flame-red qualities. Hearing it hurts my heart, physically. It is a dagger, a rifle. Call me a dramatist, but in my mind and in my view, it is the verbal equivalent of rape.

I cannot explain the pain this word causes unless I am talking with other parents of special needs. It is a certain kind of pain that you only understand if you love someone with a disability, regardless of that disability.

And chances are, you probably know someone who has a disability. Even if they’re good at hiding it, even if it is a disability on the inside, in the deepest corners of their minds. So, if it helps, think about that person who you love when calling something or someone retarded.

Or, if you know our family personally or even through my blog or the funny Facebook quotes and conversations of his that I post, think about my little boy, who will soon be asking me why someone called him this name.

And then tell me how you would answer him.

Because I don’t have the words.

From Spread the Word to End the Word‘s Facebook page: Spread the Word to End the Word is an ongoing effort by Special Olympics, Best Buddies International and our supporters to raise the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the word “retard(ed)” and encourage people to pledge to stop using the R-word. 


The campaign, created by youth, is intended to engage schools organizations and communities to rally and pledge their support. Most activities are centered annually in March, but people everywhere can help Spread the Word throughout their communities and schools year-round thru pledge drives, youth rallies and online activation. 

The effort is spearheaded by college students, Soeren Palumbo (Notre Dame 2011) and Tim Shriver (Yale 2011), and led by young people, Special Olympics athletes and Best Buddies partners across the country. Celebrity activist John C. McGinley of the hit show “Scrubs” is a spokesperson for the campaign. Respectful and inclusive language is essential to the movement for the dignity and humanity of people with intellectual disabilities. However, much of society does not recognize the hurtful, dehumanizing and exclusive effects of the word “retard(ed).”

It is time to address the minority slur “retard” and raise the consciousness of society to its hurtful effects.

copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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Not Acceptable

“Not Acceptable” is a new PSA that will premiere during this evening’s “Glee” finale and one that has been getting a lot of buzz on blogs and Facebook pages.

Know that it has some questionable words in it.

Which is kind of the point.

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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Today’s Post Is Brought to You By the Letter "R"

r-word.org

Take the pledge by clicking on the Speak Out Now! box above.

And for why it is so important to speak out,
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It’s Not Just Another Word

My cousin Joey has asked people to share their stories of discrimination and bullying on Facebook group that he started less than two weeks ago, Equality Project. As of this morning, there are 3,361 3,389 members of the group, with the vast majority of them being teenagers. (If you missed them, see my previous posts here and here about Equality Project.)


It struck me that by being asked to share my story is an opportunity to share with this audience my thoughts on a subject that matters deeply to me. Most of what I say here has been better said by more eloquent writers than I am, but if this helps one person to think before saying the r-word, then it’s worth it.

I’m spelling the word out for the purpose of the Equality Project post (which you can see below) but not here because there is something inherently difficult about writing that on my blog, even for educational and awareness purposes. I just can’t do it.


“That’s so r —-ed.”

How many times have you heard someone say this, or some variation of this?

Pretty often, I’d imagine. Because I’ve heard it too. From everyone. It’s not a figure of speech flung by teenagers. I’ve heard this from a few of my otherwise professional coworkers. If I was a Cabinet member in the Obama administration, it’s possible that I might have even heard this in the halls of the White House this week, when Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel allegedly, reportedly (according to the Wall Street Journal) referred to something or someone as “fucking r —–ed” in a meeting.

You’ve heard it and I’ve heard it. And, it is just a matter of time before my 8 year old son, who has autism, hears it too.

And he’ll ask me – because he always asks me – what that word means.

And I have no idea what I will say.

I’ll probably explain it to him similarly as I did when I told him he has autism. Trust me, as a parent, you get intimately acquainted with a special kind of heartbreak when you get to tell your 8 year old that his brain works differently, that he has something called autism, that even the best doctors don’t quite exactly know why you were born with this, that this is the reason why some people don’t understand why you act differently than other kids, that you will have this (to some degree) to the rest of your life.

I don’t really understand the logic behind using this word. I’ve heard the reasons (and excuses, really) why it happens.

It’s just a figure of speech. I don’t know what I was thinking. Oh, I wasn’t referring to your son. It’s just a word.

It’s not just a word. Trust me on this. It is Not. Just. Another. Word.

For in the minds and hearts of those with developmental disabilities and those of us who love them, it is a word with searing-hot and flame-red qualities. Hearing it hurts my heart, physically. It is a dagger, a rifle. It is the verbal equivalent of rape.

I cannot explain the pain this word causes unless I am talking with other parents of special needs. It is a certain kind of pain that you only understand if you love someone with a disability, regardless of that disability.

And chances are, you probably know someone who has a disability. Even if they’re good at hiding it, even if it is a disability on the inside, in the deepest corners of their minds. So, if it helps, think about that person who you love when calling something or someone r—–ed. Or think about my little boy, who will soon be asking me why someone called him this name.

We’ve been talking a lot about equality in recent days. About embracing each other and our differences – whether they are in regard to our sexual orientation, our political and religious beliefs, our skin color, our ethnicity.

We are speaking up.

But when speaking up means continuing to casually say the word r —–?

That’s when we need to change the conversation.

More than 52,784 people have taken a pledge to Spread the Word to End the Word. Find out how you can join them at http://r-word.org/ You don’t have to wait until March 3. Even if you have used the r- word in the past, today is a new day with a clean slate. Check out these Facebook groups for more information and resources.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo’s Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.
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In Praise of Eunice Kennedy Shriver (and Basketball)

“You are the stars and the world is watching you. By your presence you send a message to every village, every city, every nation. A message of hope. A message of victory.”

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, at the 1987 Special Olympics World Games in South Bend, Indiana.

It’s not like I knew her or anything, but the death today of Eunice Kennedy Shriver fills me with a sadness. Appreciation, yes, most definitely, but an appreciation edged out by a smidge more sadness.

Maybe it has something to do with basketball.

While we were spending a relaxing Friday afternoon with friends, Boo joined our friends’ son in their driveway, where they were playing basketball. Boo has been talking a lot about basketball this summer – perhaps from playing it at camp, I guess. He’s been asking for a basketball net, so after I woke up from a nap on Saturday, I was greeted with a note saying that they had gone out to the store for … yes, a basketball net.

Now, I admit, I was less than pleased about this. Those damn 7′ nets are unsightly and with the plethora of storms and heavy winds we tend to get around these parts, I have visions of the damn thing smashing through the dining room windows. But since the purchase was underway – and since I had just been granted a much-needed 3-hour nap – my protests would be for naught.
But still, it’s not like my kids (particularly Boo) are giants. They take after my side of the family and are smaller than their peers, often mistaken for a few years younger than they really are. So, acquiring a basketball net seemed a little foolish. What good could come of this? I thought. Exercise, yes, but an exercise steeped in futility and frustration seemed more likely.

Putting this thing together was arduous, but after close to 5 hours, we had a net. I went outside with the camera, admittedly, not expecting much.

I took shots as I watched Boo take shots. Shots like this one …

… which resulted in this …

(I know the photos are blurry. That’s on purpose. I have my reasons.)

I’m thrilled that I have the photo of Boo’s first slam dunk (and he is too), but the real photo was the look on his face – a look that I missed because I was, obviously, behind my superstar. The husband has described it as priceless, that there are no words.

Our family doesn’t have first-hand experience with Special Olympics (Boo never played in Special Olympics, but he did spend a season on a Challenger Baseball team.) That experience was everything that you hope for when you sign your kid up for such an activity. Sure, there was lots of screaming and hollering by the parents … when any of the players made a hit or scored a run. It didn’t matter if your kid was on the blue team or the red team; we cheered for them all.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded what grew into Special Olympics in 1962, after a mother called her in desperation because she could not find a summer camp for her child.

According to today’s New York Times which recounts an interview Mrs. Shriver did with NPR, she said: ” “You don’t have to talk about it anymore. You come here a month from today. I’ll start my own camp. No charge to go into the camp, but you have to get your kid here, and you have to come and pick your kid up.’ ” With that, the conversation ended. For years, Camp Shriver provided physical activity for developmentally challenged children.

The New York Times says “[t]his was an extraordinary idea at the time. The prevailing thought had been that mentally retarded children should be excluded from physical activity for fear that they might injure themselves. As a result, many were overweight or obese.”

This was in a time when people with disabilities were not encouraged to play sports. Hidden away, out of sight.

Kind of like what I wanted to do on Saturday with my son and his interest in basketball.

On Saturday, I was no better than those in 1962 when the basketball net arrived at our house. I didn’t think this was going to amount to anything. That it was more trouble than it was worth.

I’m certainly not proud of myself for not believing he could do this, that he would enjoy this, or be good at it. As parents of kids with special needs, I believe we are all guilty on occasion of falling into this swamp of doubt – and then, suddenly, you see a slam dunk into a 7 foot high basketball net by a kid who is a head shorter than your average 7 year old.

And that, I think, is what is at the crux of my feeling sad today at the loss of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Because I believe that the mentality I had on Saturday is sometimes the more prevalent one in society. That we still have a ways to go, so many more strides to make and barriers to knock down, because for every person who believes in kids with disabilities, there’s a dozen more who never will. Who mock and denigrate them by cavalierly using the word retard, who tease, who bully, who take advantage, who deny services, who are of little faith.

Eunice’s view is what we still need to aspire and strive for – myself included. To have a sense of total acceptance, to see beyond the disability and the limitations.

For many of her 88 years, she did that. And today I wonder, who will take up the torch, the flame of the Special Olympics legacy that Eunice Kennedy Shriver passed to us today in her passing?

“She set out to change the world and to change us, and she did that and more. She founded the movement that became Special Olympics, the largest movement for acceptance and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities in the history of the world. Her work transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe, and they in turn are her living legacy.” (from the Shriver family statement)

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Today’s the Day

It’s March 31.

Today’s the day to Spread the Word to End the Word.

There are rallies and take-the-pledge events going on throughout the country, according to the Special Olympics site. I’m particularly pleased to see that every high school in Delaware is participating in this campaign, and that colleges and universities throughout the country (and even American University in Beirut) are also hosting events.

If there isn’t an event or rally near you, no matter. Ending the practice of saying the r-word and educating others about how hurtful this is to people with disabilities doesn’t require a public display of support, although that certainly helps with raising awareness.

The change comes from within ourselves, and spreads from there.

Spread the Word to End the Word. Let’s just do it.

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