The R-Word: Real Talk


November 28, 2016 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ College Living Experience


by Sara Davis, Student Services Coordinator, CLE Denver

Retard. There, I said it. Now let’s spread the word to end the word. Why, you may ask? This word is hurtful and disrespectful to many and promotes exclusivity. So how do we do this? Let’s look at a simple three-step process.

1. Education.

The r-wordFirst, let’s look at the definition of the R-word:

“Delay or hold back in terms of progress, development, or accomplishment”

Mental retardation was originally introduced as a medical term but over time, it has been widely use to insult and degrade people with intellectual disabilities and also, become slang. When used as synonyms for “dumb” or “stupid” by people without disabilities they are only reinforcing the hurtful stereotype that people with disabilities are not valued members of our society. I asked a student, how do we move forward in today’s culture? “We need to take the power away from the word. At one point, it might have been deemed as acceptable, but as society has changed and grown up it is not anymore.”

2. Awareness

Our language shapes our attitude and our attitude shapes our language; they’re intertwined. Moving forward in today’s society, we can all practice people–first language. What is this, you ask? It’s acknowledging people before their disability. It eliminates the old and hurtful descriptors and moves us into a new direction. People–first language is not political correctness; instead, it demonstrates good manners, respect, and it can change the way we see a person. It can also change the way a person views himself or herself. Here are a few examples of people-first language:

“A man living on the streets” vs. “he’s homeless”

“People with disabilities” vs. “They’re disabled”

“She is an 18 year-old with autism.” vs. “she is autistic”

3. Pledge

I challenge you all, moving forward to use people-first language and to have that conversation with loved ones, co-workers, and friends if they use the R-word. Education and awareness is everything and it’s time that we all treat each other with the respect and dignity every human being deserves.

Talk think write with respect. R-word.

Newsletter Articles – November 2016

Mother of a son with autism

Nobody wants to hear the word “disability” associated with their child, especially a young mother like myself at the time my son was diagnosed with Autism. My husband and I were well-educated, hard working, and just a normal, everyday couple. It’s only natural to give birth to children who are just like you, right? I did everything I was told to do during pregnancy. I read all the popular baby books, I ate a healthy diet, I exercised. My beautiful son was born and I was totally smitten. I couldn’t get enough of him. He was so beautiful that people used to tell me he needed to be in magazines.

CLE Couple

While CLE is certainly not in the business of matchmaking, our program creates and fosters a community for our students that is unlike any other. Many powerful and long-lasting connections can develop from peer groups, to best friends, and yes, sometimes even romantic relationships develop. In this article Dr. Galen Chun follows up with a couple that met at CLE, and whose relationship continues strong, long after the program.

Drew and his mom Deborah

For most of my son’s life he’s been misunderstood, bullied, afraid, excluded or summarily dismissed. No wonder I was never far away with a needed explanation, interpretation, apology, you name it.

But on Sunday, August 9, 2015 that job of mine ended. I was replaced in that capacity by much more capable hands at College Living Experience—although, of course, no one is replacing me as my son’s mom. Whew.

To get some perspective on where we’ve been, let’s take a look at a few of my diary entries from last year.

Neurodiversity - the idea that variations in cognition are natural, and an example of human diversity

When I first learned the word neurodiversity, in a disability studies class, it transformed the way I saw the world. Neurodiversity is the idea that variations in cognition are natural, and an example of human diversity. The neurodiversity movement calls on all of us to participate in making our society more accessible to people with all sorts of brains – people with Autism, learning disabilities, ADHD, Tourette’s, psychiatric disabilities, and so on. It also calls for foregrounding the experiences, perspectives and leadership of neurodiverse people in organizations dedicated to disability rights.

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This has been a special needs program update from College Living Experience | CLE | Choose Your Future. You may also click here to read the original article on the main program website.