You can help Spe­cial Olympics make ‘re­spect’ the new R-word

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - MATTHEW NEL­SON, AUSTIN

Our moral and eth­i­cal codes guide our daily ac­tions. How one acts and speaks to­ward oth­ers can be traced back to what we view as tol­er­a­ble ver­sus in­tol­er­a­ble. The main­stream use of the “R-word” — re­tarded — is one of those cir­cum­stances in which there is a con­stant bat­tle within the com­mu­nity of in­di­vid­u­als with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties and those who fight for them.

The R-word is com­mon slang widely used by in­di­vid­u­als young and old with lit­tle thought of whom it may of­fend. The word stems from the med­i­cal term “mental re­tar­da­tion,” which was in­tro­duced in 1961 to di­ag­nose in­di­vid­u­als with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties. Since 2010, the terms “mental re­tar­da­tion” and “men­tally re­tarded” have been re­moved from fed­eral health, ed­u­ca­tion and la­bor pol­icy.

The R-word can deeply in­sult, cause pain and confuse not only the in­di­vid­u­als with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties but those clos­est to them as well. This was ob­vi­ous in 2016 in Amar­illo at a Spe­cial Olympics Texas aquat­ics prac­tice, when one team ex­pe­ri­enced the word’s painful im­pact.

A com­mu­nity mem­ber’s use of the R-word di­rected to­ward a group of Spe­cial Olympics Texas ath­letes left coaches, par­ents and fam­ily mem­bers in­fu­ri­ated, sad­dened and shaken. Even worse, those ath­letes were fright­ened and con­fused. They did not want to go back to the pool and were hes­i­tant to at­tend the area aquat­ics com­pe­ti­tion for which they had trained so in­tensely.

In­stead of let­ting the dark ex­tin­guish the light, par­ents, com­mu­nity mem­bers and ath­letes de­cided to use this pain as an op­por­tu­nity to unite them to rally and fight for in­di­vid­u­als with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties and to pledge to elim­i­nate the use of the R-word.

This month, Spe­cial Olympics Texas is high­light­ing some of its fron­trun­ners fight­ing to elim­i­nate the word. The ef­fort in­volves Spe­cial Olympics Uni­fied Cham­pion Schools, ed­u­ca­tion and com­mu­nity groups, plus fam­i­lies and vol­un­teers who will be chal­lenged to take the pledge to Spread the Word to End the Word — a cam­paign that any­one can join at

We have a long jour­ney to fully ter­mi­nate the use of this slur; how­ever, we can all do our part in ed­u­cat­ing those around us. We can all be a voice for in­clu­sion, tol­er­ance and ac­cep­tance of all peo­ple.

Although the fight is far from over, we should not be dis­cour­aged. There is hope in the faces of those in­di­vid­u­als with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties. Fo­cus­ing on their re­lent­less spirit, re­silient na­ture and re­mark­able sto­ries will only strengthen our will to con­tinue the fight for “re­spect” — the new R-word.

Tak­ing the pledge is the first step to­ward chang­ing the world for a large pop­u­la­tion within our so­ci­ety. For those look­ing to take a more ac­tive role in cre­at­ing an in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment in your com­mu­nity, con­sider be­com­ing a team­mate.

Since 1989, Spe­cial Olympics has of­fered Uni­fied Sports: a pro­gram that en­ables peo­ple with and with­out in­tel­lec­tual and dis­abil­i­ties to team up and play var­i­ous sports to­gether. Over the last few years, the ini­tia­tive has grown vastly, show­ing that so­ci­ety is be­com­ing more in­clu­sive, es­pe­cially among our youth. This pro­gram has opened the eyes to many — en­abling them to see how peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties have abil­i­ties and are com­pet­i­tive, just like them­selves.

Yet, Spe­cial Olympics Texas can­not pro­vide these world­class pro­grams with­out vol­un­teers and gen­er­ous donors. With more than 4,000 Cen­tral Texas area ath­letes in­volved in the pro­gram, it costs Spe­cial Olympics Texas $150 to fund a full year’s worth of com­pe­ti­tion, train­ing and health screen­ings for each ath­lete.

As you take a stand against the R-word, please also con­sider mak­ing a gen­er­ous con­tri­bu­tion to Spe­cial Olympics Texas and help give peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties an out­let to ex­pe­ri­ence re­spect and their com­pet­i­tive abil­i­ties.

Re: Feb. 21 com­men­tary, “Her­man: Wrestling with gen­der iden­tity.”

A well-mean­ing friend asked me why trans­gen­der peo­ple chose some­thing so ridicu­lous as bath­rooms to be their defin­ing civil rights fight. Don’t they care more about health care, anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws and civic tol­er­ance?

My an­swer was: They didn’t pick this fight. Law­mak­ers and in­flu­en­tial peo­ple made that de­ci­sion for them. Ken Her­man’s un­for­tu­nate fas­ci­na­tion with trans­gen­der folks and sports is an­other ex­am­ple of this.

Well-mean­ing though he may be, Her­man fails to grasp that us­ing his plat­form for ba­nal and hy­per­spe­cific non­sense — such as what team a trans­gen­der stu­dent may play for — serves only to el­e­vate the triv­ial and cheapen what is truly im­por­tant. He should look out­side

Feb. 19 ar­ti­cle, “Hun­dreds seek au­di­ence with U.S. Rep. Roger Wil­liams at Drip­ping Springs restau­rant.”

I at­tended the town hall meet­ing in Drip­ping Springs and helped sign in 255 con­stituents of U.S. Rep. Roger Wil­liams. He had been in­vited to this public event in hopes he would lis­ten to the con­cerns of the peo­ple he rep­re­sents. Although Wil­liams’ of­fice stated “(he) will al­ways humbly lis­ten to the thoughts and con­cerns of all his con­stituents,” he in­stead chose to avoid our event to at­tend a pri­vate mem­bers-only meet­ing of the North Hays Repub­li­can Group.

His spokesman in­cor­rectly dis­missed our event as a Drip­ping Springs Demo­cratic Ac­tion meet­ing, adding, “it’s clear that civil, sub­stan­tive dis­course on is­sues is not their true agenda.”

The peo­ple I met and talked to on Sun­day were po­lite and re­spect­ful. They have le­git­i­mate con­cerns with health care, banks, and im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy. It is a pity that he is un­com­fort­able meet­ing peo­ple who have dif­fer­ent points of view than his own.


A feral hog is kept in a pen at Or­tiz Game Man­age­ment in New Braun­fels. A state plan to poi­son feral hogs must be stopped, an Audubon So­ci­ety of­fi­cial writes.


Adri­ana Vera Flores (right), 18, hugs friend Viva Lopez, 21, dur­ing a bowl­ing com­pe­ti­tion at the 24th an­nual Spe­cial Olympics Texas Win­ter Games on Feb. 3 at Dart Bowl.


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