At the beginning of March, schools, businesses, and cities around the country organized “Spread the Word to End the Word” events to spread awareness to advocate for the full inclusion of people with disabilities. Unfortunately, I am sure that in the course of these events, you all experienced at least one person (either this year, or in the past) that disagreed with it, and one of the most common reasons he or she had was something along the lines of “It’s just a word—what’s the big deal?”
Despite our best intentions to increase awareness about ability rather than stereotypes of disability, people are stuck on this idea that the R-Word is “just another word” that holds no deeper meaning. We, of course, know that it does. The very fact that we have a day dedicated to its extinction is evidence enough that this word affects many people. Still, so many people will come up to your R-Word booth and criticize what your chapter or group is doing and—most importantly—why you are doing it. This may seem harsh, but frankly, it is the truth—people are convinced that this current age of political correctness is going to be the death of us with everyone going around walking on eggshells instead of just saying whatever we want.
The question “what’s the big deal?” is one that advocates need to be familiar with, and know how to effectively answer when it’s posed. Oftentimes, we reply with some version of “the use of the R-Word is disrespectful to people with disabilities.” This is, of course, true and valid—but let’s take it to the next level. Kathie Snow has written a very compelling article entitled, Is It “Just Semantics?” The very definition of the word ‘semantics’refers to the meaning that we give to words. Kathie Snow explains the R-Word is not “just a word” because language shapes our thought processes, which can affect our actions. When we look back at the Civil Rights Movement, the role of the N-Word was to disrespect African-American people, but it also fueled attitudes and actions towards African Americans in our country for one hundred years after the Civil War. In short, words are powerful, and their power lies in the meanings we give them.
Spread the Word to End the Word is about empathy, not sympathy—and we must realize that there is a crucial difference between the two. People with disabilities do not want or need our sympathy. With everything that people have said to them or about them, the last thing that people with disabilities need is our feeling sorry for them—what they really need is respect, our understanding, and our knowledge that they deserve to be on an equal playing field for the same aspirations that everyone else has. The root of the STW Campaign is an awareness issue that addresses the matter of respect: respect for oneself as a self-advocate, respect for parents who love their child unconditionally, respect for a sibling who understands that although their brother or sister may look differently, it does not detract from the amazing bond that they will have in growing up together, respect for a co-worker, or a neighbor, or a friend. We want to challenge you to think about the power of semantics, and the importance of showing respect through language. Strive to “spread the word to end the word” EVERY day, not just once a year.
On behalf of the YLC, I am happy to introduce the first of many blog posts to come from one of its sub groups: the Education Advocacy and Training Committee. Our goal is to contextualize Best Buddies in the larger Disability Rights Movement by providing resources, and educational pieces about the inclusion movement, as well as opportunities to educate others in our local communities. A small piece of this will be posting every month about a topic that is relevant to the Inclusion Movement on a national, or international level, as well as a call-to-action opportunity. Our first post is about a very important topic that affects millions around the world with steps for you all to take to make your voice heard!
As we all know, Best Buddies is rich in the Disability Rights Movement; its first chapter created one year before the Americans with Disabilities Act. This huge piece of legislation is a hallmark in the American system that guarantees accessibility and equal treatment for people with disabilities. However, in many countries around the world, there is little to no equality for those people with disabilities. With no access to education and rights, while being ostracized by the rest of their culture, people with disabilities around the world are discriminated against to an extreme degree when compared to the United States. However, there is a treaty that is seeking to end all of that, and begin a whole new chapter of acceptance and empowerment to people around the world.
Did you know that as a member of Best Buddies, you are a part of the disabilities rights movement? You are playing a huge role in the advocacy for inclusion of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities! We don’t know about you, but thinking about being a part of something so big gives us a feeling of empowerment. It makes us ask ourselves, what more can we do? If you have ever found yourself asking this same question, we have a suggestion for you: lobby to your local government!
If this is something you have never done before, it can sound very intimidating. Where do you even start? That’s where we come in to help! Lobbying to local government is actually very easy and extremely gratifying. It is so important that we, as student advocates for individuals with disabilities, speak up for what we are passionate about and lobby for changes to be made!