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(The picture above is of an enormous white banner with a large “R” in black print in the middle of it, surrounded by a thick red circle and a diagonal line through the circle, much like a “no smoking” sign. On the rest of the white banner, inside and outside of the circle, there are countless signatures of names – hundreds, possibly thousands – written in multiple colors of ink that cover the entire banner.)

 

“Retard – to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc); hinder or impede” (Dictionary.com).

Does any part of that definition allure to a noun or adjective?  Absolutely not.  A verb synonymous with ‘to slow down,’ the word may be used in the sense “Joe used his brakes to retard the motion of his car.”  Nowhere in the definition does it refer to a characteristic or group of individuals, but the negative connotation society has placed on the word retard has affected and hurt not only many people in the disabled community, but the community itself.

The artifact I’ve chosen to share with the class, shown in the picture above, looks merely like a banner with names and miscellaneous scribbles on it.  However, each signature is actually a pledge to yourself and the community to not use the “R” word in a derogatory sense.  The organization I’m a part of, Best Buddies, started this campaign to “Refuse to use the ‘R’ Word.”  As part of Disabilities Awareness week last March, the executive board for Best Buddies posted up mid-Diag with an empty banner, some candy, and a mission to spread our message.  My buddy Justin, along with a few other members’ buddies, joined the cause and volunteered their time to stand outside and yell at strangers passing by to take five minutes out of their day to help make a difference.  As you can see, we were more than successful.

Language is a strong weapon.  It’s a double edged sword because not only does it hurt the individual, but it also affects a group’s identity in society.  Using the term “retard” to describe those with intellectual and developmental disorders places them into an ideological group of deficiency and shortcomings; something every member of Best Buddies can prove is not true.  Linton comments on this idea in his section on ‘Nasty Words,’ talking about how cripple “inadequately and inaccurately describes the group,” and that words like this are “understood to be offensive and hurtful, (yet) they are still used in jokes and in informal conversation” (Linton, 16-17).

In our readings, we’ve discussed the lack of knowledge pertaining to disabilities awareness and the ignorance many people demonstrate over this topic of discussion.  However, people with disabilities are often left out in the rain, rejected from the social justice umbrella striving to defend the rights of everyone else.  For example, today I was talking to my friend and she referred to someone as “looking at me like I was retarded.”  I was a bit surprised, hearing this out of a social activist’s mouth.  This same girl fights for women’s equal rights, scolds people for using “gay” derogatorily, and I have even seen her slap someone for muttering the word “faggot,” yet retard flew out of her mouth so easily.  Siebers discusses in his essay the parallelism between disability studies and the culture wars, and argues that it should be “a significiant register in the many and various disputes that have come to be known as the ‘culture wars’ (Siebers, 1).  Just as the equal rights movements of minorities, gays, transsexuals, and many other groups have forced their way into the spotlight for change, the disabled community also deserves this same attention and consciousness.

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