June 27, 2011 in Features

‘Glee’ gives lift to campaign to educate public on R-word

When it comes to the word, try rejection
Kim Hone-Mcmahan Akron Beacon Journal
 
Tags:Glee

It’s a slur just like any other. It hurts, and yet many, including some sports heroes and musical artists, think it’s somehow OK to include it in their conversations.

The word is “retard” (or “retarded”) – otherwise known as the R-word. And it’s the subject of a wide-reaching campaign to educate folks about how its use can cause great pain.

“Not Acceptable,” a public service announcement created by Spread the Word to End the Word, aired during the recent finale of Fox’s hit series “Glee.”

The brief spot began with an African-American man saying it is not acceptable to call him the N-word, followed by others repeating similar sentiments about racial, sexual and religious slurs.

At the end, “Glee” actress Lauren Potter, who has Down syndrome, said: “It’s not acceptable to call me a retard or call yourself or your friends retarded.”

More than 200,000 people have made pledges at www.r-word.org in support of eliminating the derogatory use of the word from their everyday speech.

Lori Hurt, a special-education teacher in Akron, Ohio’s Leggett Elementary School, is passionate about the subject. She joined the campaign a few months ago.

“The only way that people will stop saying it is if you make people aware that it’s hurtful. And how it is damaging to people who have disabilities and their families and friends,” says Hurt, who has a sister with Down syndrome.

“I think people say the word but don’t equate it with a group. But it is associated with a group. If you say the N-word, it is obviously associated with a group in your mind. But not necessarily the R-word. It needs to stop.”

Hurt explains that “retarded” and “retardation” are definable terms, medically. They have been used in publications and in the names of organizations.

“But the way it has transcended into a slur is totally degrading,” she says.

“The thing about people with disabilities is that it can happen to any family, of any age, in any location in the world, and at any time in their lives. It just surprises me that people aren’t more understanding.”

Claudia Anger, of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, has cerebral palsy. Though she is unable to speak, she motioned with her hands to show tears falling from her eyes when explaining how it feels to be mocked or called names.

“People call me the R-word all of the time,” she typed in a message to a reporter. “I’m not R-word … it makes me feel small and hurts my feelings.

“I have the same feelings (others) have and you have no right to call me that word – and no right to call my best … friends the R-word. It’s not right. I wouldn’t call you words.”

While people who are discriminated against because of race, religion or sexual orientation can defend themselves, people with disabilities are often unable to do that, Hurt says.

“All people,” she says, “regardless of their abilities, deserve respect.”

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