Words matter. We all know that. I wish I had something more profound to say about this week's "winners." The only thing that seems to stick in my head is that this story makes me feel like I am in a time warp.
We have come so far in the past decade with how we speak to and about those with a disability. Relentless advocacy from patients and family members is largely to thank for this societal advancement in the appropriate use of language.
Unfortunately, it seems like some employees of the Chili's at the Pittsburgh Mills Mall never got the memo. Imagine being the father of a delightful toddler with Down Syndrome. It would be bad enough when co-workers are using the "R" word as a pejorative in the work place, but it would be a complete nightmare when an employee complains about the language, and the manager at that work place says that if the employee doesn't like it, they can leave. Yet, this is exactly what happened to Bruce Casper.
Bruce Casper's reaction to how he has been treated only serves to emphasize that some words carry such a negative connotation and are considered so offensive, that they cannot be overlooked.. And this is why we need to continue on in our work to elevate the conversation. These words cannot be un-heard, the pain cannot be un-felt once uttered. Continued education of the public is critical.
My message to you is DO NOT STOP educating people! We may have thought we have arrived at an age of enlightened thought and speech, but we are far from there yet. I just spoke with a mother who had recently moved to another state and was shocked to learn that there was still a pervasive use of this backwards, offensive use of disabilities as means of insulting others in her new location. My teenagers battle it amidst their peers every day. We have work to do!
Some of the greatest resources I can think of include the website R-Word.org. There are all sorts of advocacy tools as well as merchandise available there. Don't know how to explain to people WHY they should not be using that word so carelessly? Visit this 2013 post from our friend, Noah's Dad (aka Rick Smith), “That’s So Retarded” – Why I Stopped Saying This, And You Should Too. There is a Facebook Page committed to the cause of ending taunting use of the R-word. And then, of course, there is this favorite graphic of mine designed by Alison Rowan...
Ms. Rowan even has t-shirts and posters for sale on her website with this powerful graphic.
No matter what tool or resource you use, never relent. An estimated 16% of all children in the US have some sort of developmental disability. Those diagnoses may not involve Down Syndrome or cognitive delay, but when we allow one of those kids to be insulted, it drags all of us down in the process. Every one of us bears the image of God and deserves to be treated as such. Elevate the conversation around you today.
~ Barb Dittrich
*Source: Father Of Boy With Down Syndrome Fired After Asking Co-Workers Not To Use Offensive Language