When an Old Flyer Reminded Me How Far We’ve Come With the ‘R’ Word

Long ago (long, long ago) when I was 12 or 13, my friend, Sue, and I participated in a Bike-A-Thon. We met up with a couple of friends, Joe and Ron, who were also participating. I remember it being a lot of fun, with the exception of Susan smashing into and ruining Ron’s bike gears. We had so much fun that we went around the route twice (much to the dismay of the people who pledged by the mile — I was young; this did not occur to me at the time).

For years afterward, I tried to remember what this Bike-A-Thon was for. What cause were we supporting? No one I asked could remember either.

As an adult, when I think back on it, yes we had fun, but I’m horrified this organization thought it was OK for a bunch of 12- and 13-year-olds to ride their bikes down these very busy main roads. It wasn’t like it is today; roads weren’t closed or even sections roped off. We were on our own on these busy main roads, most with no sidewalks or shoulders, until we came upon a check point. But this is the way it was. We didn’t think a thing about it back then.

Well, Susan was cleaning out her mother’s attic a week or two ago and found the actual map of the course we took on this Bike-A-Thon, and on it was the name of the Bike-A-Thon.

Backing up for just a minute. This morning I read an article that had the R-word in its title. It was a good article and I wanted to share it (I eventually did), but I was so apprehensive about the R-word in the title. It needed to be there, it really did, but I’m so uncomfortable with it that I really thought a lot about it before sharing it. (If you have a moment, please read it here. It’s worth the time.)

Having said that, below is the map my friend found. She was just as apprehensive about sending it to me as I am sharing it here.

old flyer for a bike-a-thon that refers to people with disabilities as the 'r' word

My heart skipped a few beats when I first saw it. I sat on it for a few weeks, but I thought that if you’re as appalled as I was (and still am) at reading the name of the Bike-A-Thon, then let’s look at it as a glowing example of how times really have changed. It’s so hard for me to believe that back then, this and a few other words I’m guilty of using as a child were just OK. We didn’t know any better back then. Now we certainly should know.

I have gotten into plenty of discussions over the use of this word. Most of the discussions have been with people who really didn’t understand what the problem was as long as they weren’t using it to disparage someone with a special need – but they are! They’re using it as slang for “stupid.” They’re taking a word that was once used as an actual diagnosis and using it to describe “stupid.” I really don’t get why this is so hard to explain to people.

A version of this post originally appeared on Taking It a Step at a Time — Autism.

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