As a mother of a child who has mental retardation, the misuse of the word “retard” is so frightening. It represents an attitude in people that highlights the potential for my child to be ridiculed, shunned and hurt by people.
It is not that I am frightened that Matt will be physically wounded one day. Although it still happens that people with intellectual disabilities are physically and sexually abused, that is generally frowned upon by society. People say that that is a BAD thing and should not happen. Laws are in place to punish such prejudicial actions. People are quite supportive that people with intellectual disabilities be treated with dignity.
The misuse of the word retard makes me fear that Matt will one day be lonely. Because although people will mostly say that a person with an intellectual disability should be protected and respected – that is as far as it goes. In a real-life encounter people still tend to be uncomfortable around someone who sees the world differently and responds in ways that do not fit into the norm. We all like to be around others who are similar to us. And that really frightens me. I do have this fear that one day when Matt is older – when he can’t charm people with his adorable cuteness anymore – that he will be lonely because
...although people will tolerate him, they won’t necessarily include him;
...although people might talk to him, they won’t necessarily be his friend;
...although people might sit next to him at church, they may never invite him to their homes;
...although he might be part of a group, he may never feel like he truly belongs;
...and although he might interact with people, he may not be loved.
And so I guess what I am saying is that I see the fight against the misuse of the word “retard” as only one tiny step. I want so much more. I don’t want people to just stop using the R word…
I want to see hearts change
I want to see the fear of “the other” evaporate
I want to see open arms
I want to see authentic celebration of differences
I want people to look for how Matt can contribute, rather than look at the ways that he doesn’t fit in
I want to see people being brave and stepping out of their world view to take glimpses into other’s views
I want to see people to value the flavours that diversity brings, rather then guarding uniformity.