The words we use — By Daniel Riordan

I deal with words everyday.
I spend time deciding what word best describe something or if too many words are being used to explain a situation.
And I’ve used words that I’m less than proud of.
Many of us have used derogatory words to describe people or situations.
We often use them when talking with friends.
Guys are especially good at using foul language towards friends in a joking manner.
But one word I won’t use any more is “retarded”.
The dictionary definition of the word as a verb is “to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.); hinder or impede.”
That’s not how it is used typically in our society. It’s meant to insult. It’s meant to degrade a person or situation.
I don’t think this is an issue of being politically correct. I understand there are word police out there trying to correct everyone and how they use certain words.
Now I’m guilty of having used “the r-word” in the past. And it wasn’t used as the dictionary definition.
But what changed me is the time I got to spend with people living with intellectual disabilities as part of a series I did for Cardinal Services. Cardinal Services calls them their clients.
I was told about a program called “Spread the word to end the word.”
It’s also about getting people to stop using the r-word. There’s a website with information and a pledge people can take to stop using the word.
Many people will say “Well I would never use the word toward a disabled person. Just toward a friend or toward a dumb situation.”
Here’s what I’ve learned: That word not only hurts people living with intellectual disabilities but their family and friends as well.
I remember my first week at my old newspaper. I used the word in a lame attempt to be funny. What I didn’t know is that one of my co-workers had a sister who had Down syndrome.
For her, that word stuck like a knife every time she heard it.
For her, that word meant that her sister was less than human. And that her sister was less valued in our society.
She told me this. And asked that I not use the word in front of her.
Words can hurt more than we know.
I find the word to be ugly. It sounds ugly coming out of people’s mouths just like racial or gay slurs.
People have the right to use any series of words they want to. That’s what is part of what makes this country so great.
But people also need to realize there are consequences to their words as much as their actions.
Free speech is free in the sense you can say anything you want about anyone or anything. But it doesn’t mean you are free from the repercussions of your speech.
You don’t know when you walk into a room of strangers who has a family member living with an intellectual disability.
Having spent some time with some of the clients at Cardinal Services, it opened my heart up to how remarkable special needs people are.
At Cardinal Services, even those living with severe physical and mental disabilities were given a job. Now it may just be something we would consider menial.
But to the clients it provided a real sense of purpose and pride.
Those are emotions we too often strip from people living with disabilities because of how we treat and talk about them.
It’s a worn-out phrase but those clients just want to be treated like you or I.
I gained so much from my time talking with clients at Cardinal Services. I was impressed by their attitude. I was impressed by how welcoming they were of me. I was especially impressed by their work ethic and dedication.
After that I felt like the least I could do was stop using a word that provided so much hurt for their community.
I’m not one to get in people’s faces and shout them down when they use offensive words like the r-word. That’s just not in my nature.
But I do encourage people to take a little time and look into it and reach their own conclusions.
For more information on the website I referenced earlier, check out
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