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Why the 'R' Word Is Not 'Just a Word'

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Every year, I try to create a post highlighting why I feel it’s important to support and practice the “Spread The Word To End The Word” movement. In an attempt to sum up just how I feel, I’m going to redeliver last year’s post with a few changes. We live in a society where having an opinion is often an automatic right to discount the opinions and feelings of others and, essentially, where compassion is lost in a cloud of arrogance.

Let this not be a lecture. Let this be a simple message.

I wrote this post in the hospital last year while my daughter, Tessa, was finishing her last round of chemotherapy for what I hoped would be for the rest of her life. I remember a fire igniting in me when I realized that in addition to fighting for her life, she was also fighting for respect in everyday life outside of cancer.

There are many words I can use to describe Tessa’s journey to today. “Retarded” is not one of those words. And it never will be.


On March 4, 2015, I stand united with thousands of others and encourage people everywhere to hear our voices. We ask for this pledge to be signed, understood and practiced — not just today but every day.

I’m talking about the movement ending the use of the r-word. “Retard.” “Retarded.” It is more than a word. It’s a classification labeling people who don’t deserve the label. It’s a word that minimizes the vast accomplishments my daughter and others make each and every day.

I’m not stripping anyone of their first amendment rights (yes, I’ve heard that one before). I’m challenging people to be better for others and for themselves.

Why? Because we need a reminder to be considerate, compassionate and polite. It might not mean anything to some people, but to many others, like me, it does.

This world places limits on people with intellectual disabilities and challenges them to rise above. But those who place the limits fail to stick around for the good part. Not only do these people rise above, they soar far above the expectations. They conform to the standards of everyday life. They persevere. They do it all, but the word still exists. It’s still used. It’s still hurtful.

Tessa is more than the word used to reduce her. She deserves better.

Everyone does.


I’m not over-sensitive. I’m a mom of a child with special needs. I’m a mom of typical children. I’m a human being asking for a shred of decency and respect. Please spare me the speech about the r-word implying nothing about people with differing abilities, because it absolutely does. Preaching that we are over-sensitive is a bad excuse for poor behavior when it’s so easy to be better.

So if it is just a word, then please pick a different word. A better word.

Sign the pledge. Remember it. Pass it on.

*Steps down from soap box.*

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This post originally appeared on Dear Tessa.

Originally published: March 4, 2015
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