Is ‘special needs’ the new ‘r-word’?

Sometimes “special needs” is used as a replacement for the “r-word.”

via Herald Post / Flickr

For the last 10 years, the Special Olympics have campaigned to end the use of the word “retard” and “retarded.” Its “Spread the Word to End the Word” emphasizes the hurt the “r-word” causes people with intellectual disabilities.


Thanks to the Special Olympics, many people now know that saying the r-word is not acceptable. Since the campaign began in 2009, more than one million people have taken the pledge to stop using the r-word.

Unfortunately, other words have now replaced the r-word. We have not eliminated the r-word. It has simply changed and morphed into something else, replaced with the derogatory use of terms like ‘special needs’ and ‘sped.’

Just a few days ago, I was talking to my oldest daughter, who is in middle school, and she said she rarely hears the r-word at school. Shocking, right? Except she said it’s because now kids call each other “sped.”

If you are wondering what “sped” means, it is the abbreviation for “special education.” Just because kids aren’t using the r-word, doesn’t mean they haven’t replaced it with other words that are meant to diminish people at the expense of those with intellectual disabilities.

Other words have been used, too. Comedian Norm Macdonald incited outrage when he appeared on “The Howard Stern Show.” He told the radio host, “You’d have to have Down syndrome to not feel sorry” for sexual assault victims.

“Down syndrome. That’s my new word,” MacDonald continued. Later, during an appearance on “The View,” he apologized for his comment, saying he’d “done something unforgivable.” He went on to explain that instead of using a “word we all used to say to mean ‘stupid’” he “stopped and thought [about] what’s the right word to say.” He knew he shouldn’t use the r-word, so he decided to use “Down syndrome” as an insult. Unfortunately, Macdonald is not the only comedian to use “Down syndrome” as a replacement for the r-word.

My middle daughter, who has cerebral palsy and is also in middle school, abhors the term “special needs.” She has heard it used as a replacement for the r-word as well.

Words like the r-word and its derivatives, “special needs” and “sped,” sting. It’s a pain beyond having your feelings hurt. Using these terms to ridicule others suggests that having a disability is a reason to be mocked when it’s not.

Because we have two kids with disabilities, our family always knew at some point these words would be hurled in our direction. My middle daughter was in fourth grade when a classmate called her the r-word. The most disappointing thing was the response from the adults. That happened several years ago, and she still recalls this incident as one of the most hurtful experiences she has had.

“He made me feel like I was nothing!” she said at the time.

We might not use the r-word any more, but our respect for people with intellectual disabilities is still lacking. It is time to recognize the full humanity and dignity of people with intellectual disabilities. This doesn’t mean inspiration porn or “feel good” stories that promote ableism. It means valuing each other and promoting inclusion.

I want to the world to know my daughter who has an intellectual disability is not ridiculous or inadequate. She is full of life, love, and gumption. She has a fire in her belly that roars passion into life. She lives big. She laughs big. She dances big. And she loves beyond big because the kind of love she emanates is something that few people have the fortune of knowing in their lifetime.

Perhaps it’s not enough to just end the word. The only way we can combat this discrimination is by being inclusive. Inclusion means businesses hiring disabled employees and seeing disabled people in the workforce. It means churches become accessible to all. It means you see kids with disabilities sharing true friendships with able-bodied children. It means everyone is invited and nobody is left out because of a disability. It means everyone belongs.

Respect. Kindness. It is more than just the r-word.

Articles

We've all felt lonely at some point in our lives. It's a human experience as universal as happiness, sadness or even hunger. But there's been a growing trend of studies and other evidence suggesting that Americans, and people in general, are feeling more lonely than ever.

It's easy to blame technology and the way our increasingly online lives have further isolated us from "real" human interactions. The Internet once held seemingly limitless promise for bringing us together but seems to be doing just the opposite.

Except that's apparently not true at all. A major study from Cigna on loneliness found that feelings of isolation and loneliness are on the rise amongst Americans but the numbers are nearly identical amongst those who use social media and those who don't. Perhaps more importantly, the study found five common traits amongst those who don't feel lonely.

Keep Reading Show less
Health

He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

He risked his life to leave a "historical record of our martyrdom."

via Yad Vashem and Archive of Modern Conflict, 2007

In September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. By April 1940, the gates closed on the Lodz Ghetto, the second largest in the country after Warsaw.

Throughout the war, over 210,000 people would be imprisoned in Lodz.

Among those held captive was Henryk Ross. He was a Jewish sports photographer before the Nazi invasion and worked for the the ghetto's Department of Statistics during the war. As part of his official job, he took identification photos of the prisoners and propaganda shots of Lodz' textile and leather factories.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities
WITI Milwaukee

Joey Grundl, a pizza delivery driver for a Domino's Pizza in Waldo, Wisconsin, is being hailed as a hero for noticing a kidnapped woman's subtle cry for help.

The delivery man was sent to a woman's house to deliver a pie when her ex-boyfriend, Dean Hoffman, opened the door. Grundl looked over his shoulder and saw a middle-aged woman with a black eye standing behind Hoffman. She appeared to be mouthing the words: "Call the police."

"I gave him his pizza and then I noticed behind him was his girlfriend," Grundl told WITI Milwaukee. "She pointed to a black eye that was quite visible. She mouthed the words, 'Call the police.'"

Keep Reading Show less
Good News


Rochester NY Airport Security passing insulting notes to travelers caught on tape www.youtube.com

Neil Strassner was just passing through airport security, something he does on a weekly basis as part of his job. That's when a contract airport security employee handed him a small piece of folded cardboard. Strassner, 40, took the paper and continued on his way. He only paused when he heard the security employee shouting back at him, "You going to open the note?"

When he unfolded the small piece of paper, Strassner was greeted with an unprompted insult. "You ugly!!!"

According to Strassner, and in newly released CCTV of the incident, the woman who handed him the note began laughing loudly.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Facebook: kktv11news

A post on the Murdered by Words subreddit is going viral for the perfect way a poster shut down a knee-jerk "double-standard!" claim.

It began when a Redditor posted a 2015 Buzzfeed article story about a single dad who took cosmetology lessons to learn how to do his daughter's hair.

Most people would see the story as something positive. A dad goes out of his way to learn a skill that makes his daughter look fabulous.

Keep Reading Show less
Lifestyle