Editor’s Note: Today, we’ve got a guest post from our lovely summer intern Meredith! She wrote this piece in high school to encourage people to stop using the r-word. If you promise to end the r-word, click here to take the pledge!
“Retard” is a word we have all heard before and maybe even used from time to time. It slips off the tongue as a joke to a friend, but do people actually understand the meaning of the word and how it affects people with intellectual disabilities? Well, I do. I have grown up around individuals with intellectual disabilities. I started attending Special Olympics competitions when I was two years old. Getting to know many Special Olympics athletes has made me never want to use a word that I know may hurt an individual with intellectual disabilities.
I have seen first-hand the struggles that Special Olympics athletes go through to compete. Their attitude to never give up inspires me and makes me appreciate their efforts and qualities even more. In school I have heard kids use the word “retard” as a joke; they do not understand how it affects the special-education students. People do not realize what they have said until it is too late. The use of the word retard is like any slur – it hurts, and it should never be used.
Meredith at the Polar Plunge:
The athletes don’t let things like being called retarded or being told they aren’t good enough to reach their goals. I have learned so much about acceptance and determination from Special Olympics. Being involved with Special Olympics has taught me the greatest value when you’re playing to never give up on yourself or your teammates, and that winning is not everything. I have learned from the Special Olympics athletes that if I have determination, I can push through any challenge.
My love for basketball and my enjoyment of working with Special Olympics athletes came together during my junior year at Acalanes High School. I became an assistant coach for the Walnut Creek Bears basketball team. Every weekend during basketball season I spent my Sunday mornings coaching Special Olympics athletes. I worked with one athlete named John. He was always very excited to come to practice and was always willing to learn. I taught him how to shoot and dribble the basketball and even played a little one-on-one with him. By the end of the season he was making his shots and playing with some of the more advanced kids. Coaching the athletes made me happy and always put me in a good mood. I know I will always want to be a Special Olympics volunteer and plan to continue helping the athletes reach for their goals.
My 15 years of involvement with Special Olympics has made me a better person and helped me develop values that will be with me my entire life. Working with Special Olympics athletes has taught me to see beyond how a person looks and consider who they are as a person. I do not avoid someone who looks different than me, but rather, I embrace his or her differences. I tell my friends that people with disabilities are like us. I hope that people will see what I have seen my entire life and that the “R” word will be gone from our vocabulary and people with disabilities will not face discrimination.
National Spread the Word to End the Word Day is March 5. If you’d like to pledge to end the r-word, please click here. To see what you can do at your school to promote acceptance and ending the r-word, please click here. To share your pledge to end the r-word on your social media channels, please click here.
If you’d like to be considered for a guest post on Our Unified Schools, please email your piece to OurUnifiedSchoolsBlog at gmail dot com.