International Day of Acceptance

International Day of Acceptance

“Friends, tell the world you embrace who you are; a person with social rights, who has an opinion, who has interests, who has goals and who loves life; a person who is empowered to make a difference in the world and not be without a voice in society. You are not living disabled, you are living.” -3E Love

Today, January 20th, is the International Day of Acceptance. This day was marked in remembrance of Annie Hopkins, founder of 3E Love and creator of the International Symbol of Acceptance, who died on January 20th, 2009. Today we emphasize what we should be doing every single day; we celebrate people of ALL abilities, and embrace diversity in our society.

3E Love was created in 2007 to “change the perception of disability.” The mission of this organization is to help people embrace diversity, educate society, empower each other, and love life. Annie Hopkins created the international symbol of acceptance (the wheelchair heart logo of the organization) to represent their mission.

As wonderful as it is that this day is celebrated around the world, it’s almost sad that it has to exist. It’s unfortunate that we have to have a specific day where the celebration of acceptance is emphasized. This is something we should be doing EVERYDAY. Each day we should be accepting people for who they are, what they love, their abilities–no one should be judged by their disabilities. Each day we should be showing respect to people with different abilities, not just January 20th.

I have the pleasure of knowing and being friends with many people with all different abilities. Every person has something to offer. Of course everyone has weaknesses, just like you and me. But everyone has strengths that outshine their weaknesses, and often society does not give them the chance to show those strengths. We need to start focusing on ABILITIES because a person should never have to be defined by their disability.

So today, on this International Day of Acceptance, make an effort to spread the word about embracing diversity, empowering each other, and educating others about respecting people of all abilities. Do this so that EVERYDAY can become a day of acceptance.

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“It’s just a word.”

“It’s just a word.”

“That’s so retarded.”

It was hard for me to even type out that word without cringing. Over the years, the word “retarded,” which from now on I will refer to as “the r-word,” has been transformed from a medical diagnosis to a derogatory insult. According to James C. Harris, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Pediatrics, Mental Health and History of Medicine, “The term ‘mental retardation’ was introduced by the American Association on Mental Retardation in 1961 and soon afterwards was adopted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5)” (Medscape.com). Since then, the r-word has been morphed to an insult used to describe things that are “stupid” or ridiculous.

In 2010, President Obama signed what is known as Rosa’s Law, named after an 8-year old girl who has Down-Syndrome, which removed the r-word from federal and educational documents and policies. The term was replaced with people first language like “intellectual disability” or “a person with an intellectual or developmental disability.” This law showed that the r-word needed to be removed from vocabulary because it was not just a medical term anymore–it became hurtful to people.

But apparently federal laws will never be enough because I still hear this term being carelessly thrown around all the time.

I have done my best to correct people when I hear them use the r-word, and many times their response is a simple, “Oh, I am sorry. I did not know that it was offensive.” And then we move on. I understand that many people are not aware of how this word can actually affect a person. And that’s okay. Educating people about the offensive nature of the word is a huge part of removing the hurtful use of the word from society.

Sometimes I will come across a WONDERFUL person who obliviously says the r-word, sees how hearing the word upsets me, and realizes that something needs to be done about it. They change their vocabulary right then and there, and even spread the word to other people about it’s negative meaning. Unfortunately, it is not always this easy to change someone’s ways.

Then there are the people who just DON’T. GET. IT. They continue to use it over and over. Even after I ask them to please not say the word, even after I explain that I have seen the use of this word make some of my best friends’ days go from great to terrible, even after I emphasize how hurtful the r-word actually is. They try to argue with me on why they should be able to say it. Are you kidding me? Were you even listening when I told you I’ve seen this word make someone cry? “It’s just a word.” But it’s not. It really is not.

It’s more than a word. It’s a label. When you use the r-word to describe something as stupid, you are associating people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with things and actions that are “stupid.” And thats putting them into categories that are untrue, and unfair.

So next time you try to make a case about why you should continue to use the r-word, please, please think about this: what if it was you. How would you feel if something completely out of your control was altered and distorted by society into something humiliating and offensive? And what if that was your sibling. Wouldn’t you take offense to the r-word if it was being used to describe your brother who has an intellectual disability? Wouldn’t you stand up for him? People with disabilities are NOT stupid. People with disabilities  are NOT dumb. They aren’t foolish, or mindless, or unintelligent. So stop associating them with things that are. Remove the r-word from your vocabulary because it is offensive, and derogatory. Remove the r-word from your vocabulary because if you are not a friend, or a brother, or a cousin of someone with a disability, chances are you know someone who is. Remove it because no one deserves to be labeled. Remove it because it is more than just a word.

 

To learn more about the r-word and sign the pledge to remove the r-word from your vocabulary, visit r-word.org. By doing something as little as thing, you can be the difference in someone’s life.