Warning, I’m going to quote a conversation that I got pulled into with two people with intellectual disabilities.
A boyfriend and a girlfriend were discussing who they were, not to each other, but to the world.
I’m going to use the words they used as risk of offending every reader.
But to be true to the story and to respect the language they chose to use, I am going to risk that.)
I am sitting waiting for an event to begin.
They are a few feet away from me.
“I’m not retarded,” he says.
“Yes you are and so am I,” she says.
“It’s a bad word,” he says.
“But that’s what we are, retarded, and it’s not bad.” she says.
“I don’t like that word,” he says, “people shouldn’t use it.”
“When I got called ‘retard’ at school, I didn’t like it. But that’s because it was a name and they were trying to hurt me.
At home it didn’t hurt to be retarded,” she explained.
“The word is a wrong word, and I’m not that,” he says with finality.
“Dave,” she calls to me, “am I retarded?”
I roll over. I tell her that “retarded” is an old word that we don’t use any more because it was and is used mostly to hurt people.
I say that the word I use now, for myself and for people like her, who I serve, is “disabled.”
“But I’m not in a wheelchair,” she protested.
“There are all kinds of ways to be disabled,” I say.
She sets her shoulders, “Well, I’m retarded. I don’t care what you or anyone thinks about that.”
He says that he prefers disabled.
They agree that he can call himself whatever he wants and she can call herself whatever she wants.
That was the easiest part of the conversation. She then asked me if I would call her ‘retarded’ if she asked me.
I told her I had to think about it.
So, what should I do?
Besides hope that she doesn’t ask me to because that’s where I’m sitting right now.