The other day a friend on Facebook posted that she would unfriend anyone that uses the r-word.
For those not in the know, the r-word is retarded, or in it's-often-used-as-a-weapon-form, retard.
While the autistic community is at odds over, well, everything, this is the one issue where every autistic parent that I know is in full agreement. There is a lot of talk about not using this word lately. There is even a campaign to end it. There are bunches of blog posts about it, about how cruel it is, about how using the word demonstrates nothing but cruelty and ignorance and perpetuates the idea that those with disabilities are somehow less than those without disabilities.
The r-word is insulting, derogatory, hurtful and just plain rude and it should not be hurled around for fodder or used to express frustration, anger or irritation at someone whose actions you don't like. It should not be used to point at someone's shortcomings, even if they are numerous and super irritating.
As a kid, I used the word, I hurled it as an adjective, adverb and a direct object. I used it to describe people and situations.
I didn't get it. I know better now.
Still, on this particular wall, a friend of my friend was defending the use of the word. His point of view was that it is just a word. It should not be used in a derogatory way against people with disabilities but he sees nothing wrong with using it to describe a frustrating situation.
This guy wasn't some insensitive blowhard, he wasn't ignorant or rude. He wasn't arguing for the sake of arguing. I don't know his personal history, but I can bet you that he never has had anyone close to him with a disability.
Otherwise he'd understand.
People do this kind of thing all the time, often without realizing the harm in it. Like a few weeks ago at work, when I was sitting in our lunchroom surrounded by a few new colleagues who were talking about the seating in the canteen, about whether people just sit anywhere or whether people sit with their own teams and departments.
"People mostly sit with their own departments, we're pretty autistic that way," was the answer that the veteran of the group, someone who had been with the company about two months offered, while internally I debated with myself whether I should say anything. I played the scenario out several ways: In my head I mopped the floor with her. In my head she became enlightened, tolerant, accepting.
In reality I kept my mouth shut.
I kept my mouth shut because as much as I would like it to, the world in real life and the world in my head are often far apart. I knew I wouldn't build a bridge here. I knew there would be no understanding. I knew I would come off as a harpy, oversensitive shrew and that the whole thing would be seen as my being an oversensitive loud-mouthed American.
The truth is that while I don't think you need to have a kid with a disability to be sensitive to those with disabilities, it doesn't always just come natually. It's human nature to use words flippantly, it's human nature to assume a lot of stuff about subjects you don't know about.
Hell, if I didn't have a kid on the autistic spectrum and didn't have to sometimes face the lack of knowledge, insensitivity and ignorance of other people, I wouldn't get it either.
That doesn't mean that I don't think ending the r-word is not a good thing, it absolutely is but at the same time I am not going to get my panties in a wad every time someone is insensitive. If that were the case, I'd have a permanent wedgie.
Who the hell wants that?
We need to be more tolerant and accepting in our society and that reaches well beyond autism or cognitive disabilities. We need to assess people based on their characters and we need to understand that every single person is born with gifts. We need to understand that things are not always how they appear.
It's not about the r-word, it's about compassion.