The R-Word: Beyond Political Correctness

Be a fan of Respect -- Pledge to Ban the R Word

Justin is a bright, funny, creative 10-year-old boy. He loves science and reading. He builds rockets, watches movies and spends hours playing with his dogs, Rascal and Champ. He had a part in his 4th grade play, was on the winning team in his community softball league, and has traveled to Washington, DC to meet with legislators.

In addition, Justin has an intellectual disability. He also has a massive pet peeve: he hates being called “retarded.”

It turns out that Justin’s not alone in wishing that people would pay more attention to the things that he does well, rather than to his diagnosis. Folks with a variety of disabilities are speaking up and asking us to think before we speak or write about them.

In a world where a diagnostic label can easily become a playground taunt or a laugh-grabber in a movie—how often do you hear the R-word said as an endearment?—people who are assigned these labels are stigmatized, ridiculed, or worse, seen as easy targets for abuse. Throughout history, words like retard, idiot, spaz/spastic, and moron—all originally diagnostic labels—have been adopted as insults. Yes, we often use them without thinking, but we can do better.

Some folks may argue that changing the language we use when we speak or write about people with disabilities is futile—that whatever we call people will become the new insult—or purely an exercise in political correctness. The points are well taken, but misguided. Those same folks would be hesitant to say the N-word out loud in a room-full of people. It isn’t about political correctness. It’s about respect, eliminating words that humiliate and ostracize whole groups of people, and shifting the cultural dialogue about disability from one of pity, fear and shame to one of inclusion.

Known as, “People First Language” the guidelines for respecting the dignity of folks with disabilities are pretty straight-forward.

First, we only refer to a diagnosis or a disability if it is relevant and critical that we do so.

Second, when we do need to talk about the diagnosis, we try to be respectful of the person, and we refer to the person first. So we would say, “man with a disability, student with a learning disability or person with an intellectual disability” rather than, “disabled man, LD student or retard.”

Let’s work together to remove diagnostic labels from our joke and insult vocabulary. It’s going to take practice to break the habit of reaching for those words, but if we gently remind one another when it happens, we’ll quickly eliminate them.

As Kathie Snow so eloquently says, “They are people: moms and dads; sons and daughters; employees and employers; friends and neighbors; students and teachers; scientists, reporters, doctors, actors, presidents, and more. People with disabilities are people, first.”

Justin sums it up perfectly when he says, “Call me Justin. That’s my name!”

This article originally appeared in Hope and Dream Magazine.

A Blast from the Past…

Polly Anna Club Button

I bought myself a Polly Anna Club Badge to prove my membership.

Several years ago (approximately three posts in Gina’s Blog Time) I mentioned that I had reconnected with my paternal clan after a couple of decades without contact. It was kind of a strange feeling that. I’ve known and been connected to these folks my entire life and knew a little more than nothing about them.

Remember those reunion episodes that every talk show hosted about once a month through the 80s and 90s? Well, I watched those with special interest because my magical thinking brain kept telling me, “Someday you may have to break down and call Donahue/Jerry/Oprah to get your family back. You need to know how this works.”

Well, I didn’t have to invite the entire planet to my family reunion, but that doesn’t mean that the magical thinking stopped there. What you typically saw on those shows was a tearful reunion with lots of hugging and crying and some sense that everyone would leave the set and be the Brady Bunch and live Happily Ever After. The End.

Um. I hate to break it to you, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. And, as much as I love to read, I haven’t found a manual that explains how it is supposed to work. What I have found is that regardless of your best intentions and your desire to find common ground, this whole rebuilding-a-family-from-scratch thing is hard work.

As part of that process, I sent one of my sisters a link to this blog. I thought it might give her some insight into the person I am, what I care about, and how I got to this point in my life. It was pretty terrifying to open up in this way. Yes, this is a public blog, but there seems to be a difference between writing for strangers and having someone you actually (sort of) know and (truly) love reading your rants about strangers hogging the gym machines.

So, after I sent the link, I came back and read through my posts… if only to know what I’d just newly shared with my sister.

And then I got kind of nostalgic about this space.

As I’ve posted before, I haven’t deleted this blog for several reasons — most of them based in my desire to have a record of the weight-loss-turned-life-change process I detailed here. But I still feel the pull to chronicle the shifts in my life in a more expansive way than my daily facebook status updates.

Hmmmmmm.

And then I think, do I want to be open in this way, again… still?

When did I become so afraid?

Why am I hesitating?

There is resistance here and desire, too, and that tension has me thinking that I need to spend some time thinking about . . .

Whoa!

And then just like that, it hits me…

I’m turning 40 in a couple of months. This year has been another transition year — new house, new school, new certifications, new contracts — but it’s also been incredibly redundant.

I’m afraid that I’m still stuck in that same space I was in when I started down this road. Yes, I am still a PollyAnna (and have the badge to prove it). Yes, I believe in balance and dreams and love and hope.

But here recently, there has been a sour voice talking back. “Life is hard.” “People don’t change.” “You’re lost.”

Where did that come from?

Oh. NO! The balloon poppers are winning!!!

This has to stop.

There is this place tucked way back in the farthest, dustiest corners of my brain where I put the icky stuff. The real reasons I stopped being a part of my paternal clad hide back there along with being teased in the 3rd grade, the taste of black licorice, images of horror films, and everything I ever learned about life insurance. I dealt with — and healed from — those events through years of therapy, journaling, ice cream cones, and forgiveness.

As I work to reconnect with my sister, there is some sense that I’m supposed to explain all of this. Why I believe what I believe. How I got to be this person. What I was thinking over that 21 year absence.

And I don’t want to.

Not because I have anything to hide but because I’m tired of retreading that ground. I want to be here. Now. In this moment. Not rehashing 40 years of decisions, events, and transitions.

When you share pieces of your life history with someone who wasn’t there, it is typically done as a “getting to know you” exercise. It is done in the context of shared interests or some other common connection. So, when someone asks me about my kids in the context of their diagnoses because they have a kid with a diagnosis, there is probably some interest in learning what I’ve learned so that they can apply those hard lessons in their own life. Or maybe we’re just commiserating or even celebrating.

The point is that there is an exchange of finite information that makes sense in the context, and that whether or not this person agrees with my choices, they aren’t likely to get under my skin either way. There isn’t an urge to justify myself.

I’m learning that it isn’t this way with “family” regardless of how long you’ve been gone. There is some emotional pull there. An expectation. An ability to hurt without intention because it isn’t a clean slate regardless of how guileless you are trying to keep the interactions.

I think I’ve allowed myself to start believing the rumors about me. The mumble cussing about my intentions has gotten loud enough for me to hear but is not blatant enough for me to address directly. So the sour voice has worked it’s way into my brain without my awareness. It’s time to kick it out.

Here’s what I know to be true (to borrow a line from Oprah): I don’t play games. I don’t do politics. I tell the truth. I avoid peril. I laugh lots. If I say, “I love you,” I mean it. If a relationship gets damaged I’ll do just about anything to reconcile it. At some point, when I’ve exhausted every idea I have to make it right, or I feel rejected or unwanted, I’ll walk away. I’m learning to balance being open with protecting myself. I used to give my all, but I’m learning to hold some aside for me. I am always surprised when someone is upset with me because I spend about 99% of my energy trying to make others happy. I don’t have an agenda. I’m striving to be my authentic self everywhere I go.

It only took me 39 years, 10 months and a couple of days to get here. Thank goodness I’m a quick study, huh?

So, back to pointing forward. I feel another transition year coming…

But aren’t they all?

It looks good on paper…

I had to come up with a 300 word essay explaining why I want a Master’s Degree in Human Resource Development. Y’all know that I rarely have trouble blah-blahing out 300 words but this was hard! I mean, I have thought and planned and read and researched all sorts of degree programs and came to the conclusion that this was the one for me. How to explain that to an admissions committee proved incredibly difficult.

So, here’s what I came up with after 3 months of fretting. Keep your fingers crossed that it is compelling enough to get me into the program–and that the program is as advertised.

I see every person, organization, and event as an occasion for development. I am happiest when brainstorming strategy with a group of colleagues, envisioning opportunities with an individual, or designing approaches for getting the best outcomes in a challenging situation.

Completing the Master’s Degree in Human Resource Development would add numerous skills to my resume while opening doors in the training/facilitating/coaching field–a realm in which I thrive. Specifically, I am looking forward to the components of the program which will prepare me for formal consultant relationships, including learning to assess organizational needs, applying adult learning theory and instructional design principles, and improving my team communication skills.

Graduate school will also “legitimize” the skill set and abilities I already have. Over the past several years I have been a featured speaker at local and statewide group meetings on a variety of subjects, including diversity sensitivity, disability-related issues, self-determination, person-centered planning, problem solving and realizing one’s dreams and potential. I make myself available as a volunteer graphic facilitator to assist organizations and individuals in defining and planning short and long-term strategies and achieving useful, realistic outcomes. Adept at conflict resolution, I have mediated countless technical, political, and interpersonal difficulties among individuals from diverse backgrounds. On a more informal basis, friends and colleagues routinely seek me out for guidance in their personal journeys toward fulfillment in their daily lives.

I am interested in participating in this program because the extensive coursework and hands-on research component will directly apply to the type of work I plan to pursue. Of course, from a more practical perspective, my hope is that this degree will give me the ability to be financially self-sufficient, while setting an example of a capable and accomplished woman for my daughter and son.

Yeah, I Wish…

I wish I was here to tell you that I am back to working out. Fact is that I doubt the folks at the gym would recognize me. Yeah, it has been that long. I still have a small desire to make my goal of 200 workouts this year. I haven’t looked at the math to see if it is still possible – but I do like finishing what I start.

The person who started out doing this with me is in the same boat. It looks like Renee and Allan and Trish have sort of drifted from their goals, too. Perhaps this isn’t a sign of failure, though. Perhaps it is a normal part of life. When I set my goal to work out 200 times this year, it was with the idea that it would take that to get back into my summer clothing. Well, I actually reached that goal in 75 workouts. Does that mean that I never need to work out, again? Of course not! But it does mean that my focus has shifted.

Brenna perfectly illustrates this point. Does she want to be physically strong? Absolutely. But she wants to be a mommy more right now. So, her focus has shifted. That’s not to say that a couple months after those babies (yes more than one) are born that her focus won’t readjust. But growing babies is a big job – and sort of requires that you give up the goal of fitting into anything smaller than a circus tent – at least in the short term.

So, am I struggling with finding the motivation to get to the gym? Absolutely. Am I freaked out about it? Can’t say that I am. I will say that I need to fit some fitness into my life.

My real struggle is with making room for all of the things I need to do along with the stuff I want to do. When working out was a want, I was motivated to work it into my daily routine. Now that it is a need, and not my heart’s desire I am a little (okay, a lot) less likely to squeeze it in. This portion of the challenge is to find a way to remain motivated to do things that aren’t at the very top of my to do list.

Yikes. This stuff just gets harder and harder!

It Was Heaven…

Well, actually it was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But it was my first solid food in two days. And it tasted really good.

I hate being sick. I hate that sweaty, half-awake, groggy, nauseous, head-achy feeling. I am an incredibly whiney person when I am sick. I am really ready to be all better. Now.

Unfortunately, whatever virus has invaded my body isn’t ready to leave. So, I will keep this post short and spare y’all from the endless complaining.

You’re welcome.

Back In The Swing…

“How are you already out and back if you just got started??”

Weeeellllll, the MegaChallenge officially started on June 6. So, we are 4 weeks in. (If you decide to participate, just start counting your year now – we aren’t picky!) That’s plenty of time to get out of the habit of daily gym ratting at least once. And I did. I went nearly a whole week without a meeting with my elliptical trainer. It was sort of on purpose – my family was out of town for 4 days and I used that time to relocate my floors. 15 bags of garbage went to the dump in my anti-clutter marathon. Needless to say, with all of the scrubbing and tossing and organizing going on, I barely took time to sleep – much less headed out to the gym.

So, when they got back, I had to rediscover my motivation to move. The biggest one? The realization that I was going to be seriously behind in my run for 200 if I didn’t get at least 3 workouts in this week. That, and I have already managed to drop 7 pounds – none of which need to be picked up, again. Having slightly over 30 pounds to lose seems so much more doable than nearly 40.

BTW in case you are wondering, yes I do obsess over numbers. I like math! It is so, well, orderly. And since I am not, by a longshot, orderly; math is friendly respite in an unpredictable world.

If I reread that paragraph (and I did) I hear my friend, Christine, yelling at me to edit and clarify. But, Christine, much as I love you (and your strong sense of grammar and style), this is my Blog and I am not turning it in for a grade, so it can be dangly and run-on and full of fictionaryisms. :)

Soap Box of the Day: It has come to my attention that calling people names is hurtful. Well, admittedly, it came to my attention about 30 years ago. But, that is beside the point. My awareness was further amplified when I encountered Kathie Snow at a workshop. She pointed out just how ridiculous (and hurtful) it is to refer to folks by their particular disability label(s). Do we call folks with cancer, “cancerous”?? Um. Not the last time I checked. So, let’s not call folks who have a disability, “disabled.”

Okay, so you don’t want to be running all over hurting people and want to know how to do better. What do you say? 2 simple rules: 1) Only refer to a diagnosis or a disability if it is relevant and critical that you do so. 2) Refer to the person first. ie: child with autism, man with a disability, person with Down’s Syndrome. See Kathie’s site for a fairly comprehensive rundown of the variations, and a fantastic explanation of the whys and hows.

See, now don’t you feel well informed??

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