Hello, my name is Martha and I am a Special Olympics athlete.
I am a person who plays golf. I am a person who has blond hair. I’ve been told I am a person who has a pretty smile and I am a person with intellectual disability.
My favorite thing to say about having a disability is that it’s something I have, it’s not who I am. I’m Martha!
There are nearly 4 million Special Olympics athletes all over the world. We play golf, we play basketball, we play tennis, we play soccer.
OK….there are 32 different sports in Special Olympics, I won’t name them all. I think you get it. They are being practiced and played all over the world…..all the time. There is NO off season.
Within those many sports and those millions of athletes, there are unique and wonderful people and their stories. There is no one word that could possibly describe them all.
Thanks to Special Olympics, I have been many places and met many interesting people and I’ve had some incredible opportunities, but, I have much more to do in this world and much more to accomplish.
The same could be said for my friends in Special Olympics.
My fellow athletes and I don’t want anyone or anything to slow us down.
We can’t be limited by what other people believe to be true about people with disabilities.
We shouldn’t be limited by a term used to describe us that means, “slow”, or a word that many people use in place of stupid.
I am NOT slow and I am not stupid. I work to the best of my ability. When I practice, I practice winning.
My friends and I know there have always been words to describe people who are different. There have always been racial slurs and ethnic slurs. There are words used to categorize people in a way to make them feel like “less” than others. There have always been words to separate us, to define us or to limit us.
There are slang words and hate speech used to describe those who worship in a way that is different or who speak in a way we are not used to hearing, or who dress in a way we are not used to seeing. It is true….they are just words.
But in a polite society, we don’t dismiss people by calling them by those words. We seek to see the person in others and to treat them respectfully.
For several years, the athletes, and others in Special Olympics have worked hard to raise awareness about what we call the “R” word.
Some people have said those of us in Special Olympics are making too big a deal about the use of the “R” word. They say, after all, retarded is only a word, ….but it’s a word that hurts us. I would never hurt anyone on purpose.
Every time we hear the words…and we hear them all the time; in schools, on TV, in movies, at work, sometimes even from people who should know better:
- What a tard
- He is such a retard
- That was so retarded
It hurts us.
It’s not funny. It’s not clever. It’s mean.
Even when those words aren’t directed at us, we believe they are about us. We have seen them on our medical records. Some of us were in classrooms with those words on the doors or in a program called by those words. How would you like to be considered Educable versus Trainable, like a monkey? Or a puppy?
It is a term that at one time was used to describe us, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree with it or like it, or that we can’t work to change it.
It’s outdated, it’s old fashioned and it hurts people. I don’t understand why anyone would use it if they know it hurts.
I think, like all name-calling, it even diminishes those who USE it because it reveals something about the person who is using it.
I’d like to share a quote by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who I had the honor of meeting in Shanghai, China in 2007.
This is what she said about us:
- There is no joy like the joy of unleashing the human spirit.
- There is no laughter like the laughter of those who are happy with others.
- There is no purpose nobler than to build communities of acceptance for all.
- This is our glory.”
There is NO joy when we are being called by an outdated term we find offensive.
Our spirits can’t be unleashed when we are being held back by the words used to describe us that are demeaning and that crush our spirits.
The words we use to describe others are a reflection of how we feel about them.
I was once asked to describe how I feel inside when I hear people use words like retard or retarded. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to describe a feeling.
I explained that it was like being like a piece of foil, all shiny and bright, that someone takes and crushes and crunches into a tight ball. Like I was turned into nothing but junk, to be thrown away.
There is no laughter when we are being made fun of or not taken seriously as athletes, or passed over for jobs because people are not aware of what we can accomplish, if we are only given the chance. There is no laughter when we are left out.
There is no noble purpose for anyone when we are separated by words that degrade and hurt us.
Our glory, the glory that Eunice Kennedy Shriver was talking about, the glory of our hopes and dreams, is to be accepted as who we are as athletes, as neighbors, as friends, and as people.
It can start with something so simple, a simple change in language.
The next time you hear someone use the “R” word, don’t stand by and ignore it.
Help create that community of respect and BE the agent for change.
Speak up! Be brave.
You’ll feel really good when you do.
Sent from Martha’s awesome iPad