I grew up in a time when the word mongol for a child with downs syndrome, spastic for someone with cerebral palsy were the accepted terms used by all. In the playground we would let the words trip off our tongue without a second thought - spaz, thlid, mong. It was the world we lived in at the time, we didn't really think about the meaning of what we were actually saying.
Thank goodness the world has moved on. Thank goodness people took a stand and pointed out that these words were wrong, derogatory, insulting.
The world has moved on from that playground banter. We have emotional intelligence now, we understand the impact of the words we once used.
Well that's my somewhat naive hope.
I understand and know what these words mean, sadly I'm not sure if the message has really filtered through. I still hear people use the words spaz and retard. It's used as an insult, and it's used increasingly. And I hate it. Because when I see those words, I see a society that still does not understand that people with ldisabilities are different not less. If those words are used as an insult then the intention is to compare the person being insulted to a person with a disability.
So, would they come up to my child and call her a retard to her face? Maybe they would. But maybe they are not even thinking about what they are saying. Thousands of people follow my social media pages, can I say hand on heart that not of those people list has never used the word spaz?.
Will they like a page about a child with a learning disability one minute and then call their mate a retard on a night out for doing something stupid?
I want people to think about what they are saying. When they use these words. Their intention may be to insult but do they really understand what they are saying. So when I hear it or read it I make it my mission to tell people what it means, regardless of the consequences to me.
A few months ago I stood in the queue in Sainsbury's while a very loud, well spoken, clearly well educated young woman was having a conversation on the phone, we all heard every detail especially when she commented that her friend "looked like such a retard in those photos". My blood started to boil, I just could not let her get away with it. So I calmly waited until she had finished speaking, and after she had paid for her shopping I went up to her and told her that I had a little girl with a learning disability and that the word retard was highly insulting to people with learning disabilities and maybe she would like to think before she used that word again"
She apologised to me and was obviously very embarassed, but maybe I made her think, maybe not, but I'd like to hope that she thinks twice next time.
I pulled someone up the other day, this time it was online, in a facebook group I am a member of, there was a funny post and I called up the comments to see what people had said and in a flash the funny post had been forgotten, because the first comment was something along the lines of "their parents must have been retarded to choose that name". Now the internet is a different place to the queue in Sainsbury's - in the supermarket it was just me, woman on the phone and a handful of onlookers. On the internet you are exposing yourself to thousands of opinions, you need to have a thick skin. But I don't care because I know that the internet is a powerful thing to change minds. My twitter friend, Mrs Nicky Clarke, extracted an apology and a change of heart from Ricky Gervais when she pulled him up on the use of the word "Mong".
If I am to be an advocate for my daughter who cannot make her views made, I need to take a stand for her. So next to this man's comments I typed " Please don't use the word retarded, I have a 9 year old daughter with a learning disability and when I hear that word it is like a knife through my heart, you may think it's just a word but you wouldn't use the N word in the same way"
All day long my phone pinged with notifications as people either "liked" my comment or commented on it. On the whole the comments were encouraging but some were really worrying and reminded me that we have so far to go still.
Many of the negative ones basically said that it was just a word and I should not get so offended. Someone said that they have a child with autism and they don't find the word offensive, someone said that she called her black friend nigger and in return was called whitey (I kid you not).
Yes it is just a word, am I offended? No, because I do not have a learning disability. But my daughter who does, who can't answer you back but has the right to an opinion as much as you, she is mightily offended because when you are dismissing someone as being retarded, you are saying that people like Daisy are not worthy of an equal billing with the rest of humanity. Because her brain does not work as quickly as yours is she less of a human being? Because of a completely sporadic mutation in a gene is she no longer entitled to a voice or an opinion. Because as Daisy's mum I know she has a voice and an opinion,maybe not in a way you recognise but it's my role to make sure you hear it. And it's also my role to make sure that if I hear someone use a word that refers to Daisy and other people with learning disabilities in a negative and derogatory way then I need to pick them up on it.
So I'm asking you, the people who read this blog, the people who follow my twitter feed , my facebook page, my instagram feed - will you stand up for Daisy too? And the thousands of children and adults like her in the UK? When you hear a friend, a colleague a stranger describe someone or something retarded or spaz, are you prepared to put your neck on the line and pull them up on it? You may find yourself on the receiving end of some abuse but maybe, you may also remind someone to really think about what they are saying, because it does matter. It's not about being offended, or about being politically correct or using the latest term, it's about doing what's right and respecting other human beings.