Brandi Morrison-Stovman should not have to explain to her son Braedyn what a “retard” is.
But the 12-year old who has Down Syndrome asked her this painful question.
A recent experience while camping caused Stovman to speak out about acceptance and kindness.
“He loves to camp. We go to the beach a lot,” she said. ”We have strict rules and he knows not to wander off. When he got older I started letting him go to the park because our campsite is always within visual sight of the park and I can hear him. This weekend we were there, he asked to go to the park so I said ok. A while later I heard some kids laughing and heard a boy say ‘Let’s take him into the bushes’ and it did not occur to me that Braedyn was being victimized at this point until I heard him calling me ‘mummy mummy they are keeping me here and I can’t get out.”
Stovman frantically searched for her son and eventually found him in some heavy brush, his foot was stuck and he could not get out on his own.
“I confronted the kids,” said Stovman, “and they told me they did not realize I was so close by. I asked why they would do this and they said he kept following them and they did not want to play with him.”
It felt like her heart was dropping into her stomach when she heard one youth say “We don¹t want to play with a retard.”
She asked the youth why she called her son that name.
“It just got worse when he told me he had been taught not to play with ‘retards’” said Stovman.
“I told the group of kids that Braedyn had special needs and that he was no different from you or I, he just has some issues with boundaries and he really wants to have some friends and that is why he was following them around. I asked the one kid how he would feel if people called him cruel names and he told me his parents called him names all the time.”
Stovman said she expects kids to be different these days.
“I expect tolerance and acceptance especially because we have anti-bullying, integration and diversity in schools. Racist slurs are not acceptable, why is this? It makes me sad to think some parents are passing on this bigotry to their kids.”
The R-word, retarded, was used in the medical community to describe a person with an intellectual or developmental disability. Since then, it has been used as a way to insult people by comparing them to people with developmental disabilities.
Greg Hill, Executive Director of Campbell River District Association for Community Living has devoted his career to working with people who have developmental disabilities.
He said the “R” word sends a chill of abhorrence up his spine whenever he hears it.
“There is a lot in a name,” said Hill, who recalled the history of labelling disabled people in Canada.
“Early in my career I worked at Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia, Ontario. Before that it was called Ontario Hospital School, but before that, the early 1900’s, the name on that red brick wall that surrounded 200 acres was ‘The Asylum for Idiots and Cretins’. And when the Association for Community Living first opened here in Campbell River, it was called Association for the Mentally Retarded, so you can still see the stigma and we got rid of that.”
“Even the word ‘mentally handicapped’ is a label, and not of the nice kind,” said Hill, who notes that Community Living and Inclusion BC have gone a long way to remedy the damage of the past.
John Franklin Stephens is a Global Messenger with Special Olympics.
“Being compared to people like me is a badge of honour. No one overcomes more than we do and still love life so much.”
Franklin said when people with developmental disabilities hear the “R” word, they feel that they are being excluded, that they are someone not your kind.
“I want you to know that it hurts to be left out here, alone. Nothing scares me as much as feeling all alone in a world that moves so much faster than I do.”
The Spread the Word to End the Word movement was created by college students in 2009 to end the insulting use of the R-word and promote dignity and respect for people with intellectual disabilities.
The campaign, created by youth, is intended to engage schools organizations and communities to rally and pledge their support.
Most activities are centered annually on the first Wednesday of March, but people everywhere can help Spread the Word throughout their communities and schools year-round thru pledge drives, youth rallies and online activation.
Stovman said the “R” word needs to be buried in the archives of ‘what not to say’.
“A person who has a developmental disability has a name,” she said. “They are the Braedyns and Jennifers and Michaels and Christines of the world. They are their own individuals just like you and I. I have had adults say it to me when they look at my child then look back at me and say those words I hate. ‘Oh, you have a retarded child’. No I don’t. I have a son-just like millions of other parents and his name is Braedyn. He is God’s angel put on earth and he will leave sooner than most, I just want his time here to be happy.”
I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.
For more information, go to http://www.r-word.org/