Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The R-Word

- By guest blogger Stephanie Hickey -

I love words. But there is one word which I hate very particularly. Retarded. I hate that word and not only do I hear it constantly, I hear it everywhere: on television, on the streets, while riding the bus, everywhere.

“That’s so retarded!” It is a phrase that permeates our culture. Even more common to hear is the phrase “God, you’re so retarded!” The definition of the word means 1.) To delay or hold back in development or progress or 2.) A person who has a mental disability. In parenthesis, the definition specified the word retard was an offensive term or abusive.

Now although most people today don’t say “retarded” in reference to mentally or intellectually disabled individual (in fact, many--when asked--agree that to use the word in such a context is cruel and wrong, opting for the more politically correct and thoughtful terms such as “developmentally disabled” or “intellectually disabled”, the word is so still prevalent in everyday life. Its context is merely different. When a person currently says, “That’s so retarded”, he or she means stupid, lame or ridiculous. I’ve actually had people say to me, “You know I don’t mean it that way” or justify their use of the word when describing something as “Well, there’s really no other word to describe it (fill in some random example such as a blunder one would see on America’s Dumbest Criminals or America’s Funniest home videos). What else can a person say besides, “That’s so retarded!”?

No harm done, right? After all, it’s not meant that way. Well I contend that using the word retarded, referring to something as retarded and--especially jokingly calling others retarded, does cause harm, however unintentional. Damage is done because whether or not people mean people with mental disabilities when saying retarded, the word evokes images of people with intellectual disabilities because the two are linked to each other in our subconscious through previous years of usage and tasteless jokes that persist today. So each time someone utters the word it reinforces the cavalier attitude that it is okay to use the word, ignoring the fact that it is an offensive term that abuses people with developmental disabilities.

Suppose that a previously offensive racial slur took on a different meaning and began to be commonly used in everyday language. Can we really imagine that the minority against whom the term was a slur would forget its offensive history and tolerate its common use? Why should retarded be any different?

While I know that dreaded r-word is a permanent fixture in our culture of which we will never be rid, I would like to challenge the what-else-can-we-say attitude. If a person means retarded as in stupid, lame or ridiculous, why can’t that person say stupid, lame or ridiculous? How about thick, silly or absurd? Harebrained? Preposterous? Outlandish? Instead of using an offensive term meant in a “nice way”, why can’t we challenge ourselves to stretch our vocabularies? Perhaps if we do then the dreaded r-word may disappear from pop culture forever.

For more information, or to help “Spread the word to end the word”, please visit

Monday, August 16, 2010

Disability: Limitations or Opportunities?

- by guest blogger Stephanie Hickey -

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I came to be doing this blog and I have to give the credit to my mother. She never allowed me to feel sorry for myself. She never allowed me to dwell on what I couldn’t do. She helped me see what I could do.

I’ve had Cerebral Palsy since I was a toddler, so from a very early point in my life I knew there would be a lot of things physically beyond my reach. For instance, I will never be a great figure skater, like my idol Michelle Kwan. But my mother helped me to see that every single person --disabled or not--has dreams of achieving what he or she knows is beyond their reach. And we all know our dreams are always going to be just that--dreams. My mother stressed that although my physical world may be limited, my mental world was not and it was vaster than the physical world could ever be.

Taking that advice, I began to read a lot and I saw that my mother was right. Entire worlds opened up to me. I totally absorbed the characters and their realities, finding that I was capable of doing hundreds of things impossible to me in the “real” world through all these characters, these other realities. And I began to fall in love with words, discovering just what could be done with them. I wanted to create those different worlds. I wanted to manipulate words. I wanted to see just what I could accomplish with them, because--as my mother said--my mental world was not limited--and I could take that to any heights I wanted to take it.

From that point, I began to discover my talent. Of course I may sometimes still wistfully wish that I were capable of doing something I know is physically beyond my reach. However, this is mostly around the time of the Winter Olympics or skating’s World Championships when I see the skaters performing and am just blown away by their physical prowess. But my mother helped me learn to find what I could do instead of coveting someone else’s gifts and being resentful of what others could achieve.

So now here I am, writing. It became my passion and grew into something I love to do more than anything else. I might not have discovered this passion and nurtured it into a talent that has grown and continues to do so had it not been for my mother. Had it not been for her outlook, I might not see things as I see them now.

Sometimes what we see as limitations are anything but that--they are opportunities. They are chances to find things you never thought were in your power to do. Setbacks are not always setbacks. We just have to push ourselves to look hard to find the opportunity in the setback or limitation. And to my mother, for helping me learn how to do just that, I say thank you.

Photo Credit: Flickr