Posted: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 3:29:24 AM
I know a boy who knows hundreds of telephone area codes across the United States; give him a city and he’ll give you the 3-digit code. I know another guy who practically has the entire New York city public transportation system memorized, and can tell you the shortest route to get from point A to point B via buses, trains, etc. I have another friend who literally knows the entire script for a dozen movies, and can spew lines from these shows on demand. All of these people are unique and talented, yet most people are not able to see this. It’s not because they are shy or hide their talents; rather, they have special needs. And because of their disabilities, people are often unable- or unwilling- to get to know them, and instead dismiss them as “retards”. Yet I am lucky enough to know better than that.
For the past few years, I have been involved with a couple of organizations that deal with integrating young people with disabilities with their regularly functioning peers. The more I have interacted with and gotten to know people with special needs, the more I have realized that it doesn’t matter if someone can’t speak properly or has difficulty doing basic tasks such as tying their shoes; a person is a person, and every human being deserves dignity and respect, no matter what issues they may have. Everyone has a purpose that they alone are meant to deliver to others. Yet the more I realized this, the more I realized how unenlightened my peers were on this topic. My classmates would call anything from a weird outfit someone wore that day to a teacher giving them a bad grade “retarded”, therefore greatly reducing the impact of this word on those who actually have a mental retardation. Not only that, but seeing the way my friends responded to those with special needs often shocked me; they usually wouldn’t laugh or be outright cruel, but would rather ignore them, or even be afraid of them. However, this is an understandable reaction: for those who haven’t really been exposed to people with special needs, it isn’t that surprising that they would cower from someone so clearly different from them.
The change I want to make is two-fold: one, to stop the use of the word “retarded” in casual conversation, and two, to make people see that people with special needs are just like everyone else. Instead of focusing on the “needs” element, I want people to see the other half: how “special” people with disabilities are. I intend to start this process through a program in my school called “stop the r-word”. This program will hopefully open peoples’ eyes to how insensitive it is to call things retarded, and hopefully therefore allow them to see that someone who is “retarded” isn’t defective: rather, they just work a different way. And hopefully one day, we’ll stop counting each other’s chromosomes and start counting each other as frien