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Doing away with that ridiculous ‘R’ word

Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 11:05 a.m. CST

The other day, my good friend Joyce Allard at Special Olympics Iowa called me to say there was going to be a special event happening tomorrow in Jasper County.

Kelsie Engelken, who teaches Family & Consumer Sciences — that’s Home Economics for those of us who graduated from high school prior to the turn of the 21st century — to grades 7-12 in the Baxter Community School District, recently began teaching a unit on caring for children with special needs in her Child Development class.

The students in her class learned about developmental and intellectual disabilities. Part of the discussion focused on the importance of ensuring those who are developmentally or intellectually disabled are given the opportunity to be included in their schools and communities.

That got them started on a discussion about the “Spread the Word to End the Word” movement. And, from that discussion came the idea of hosting just such a rally tomorrow at their school.

So, at 9:35 a.m. tomorrow — which also happens to be National Spread the Word to End the Word Day,” a student-organized event has been planned for the Baxter High School gymnasium. The event will include a speech by Iowa Special Olympian Charity Hodson of Des Moines.

Charity has been participating in Special Olympics since first grade. She competes in bowling, softball and track and field. She has also completed the Global Messengers program, which provides training in public speaking and ways to share her story with others.

If you have a chance to attend the rally, I would highly recommend it.

In our own household, I’m kind of proud to say my children have no concept of what “The Word” even is. And, for those of you who are confused as to which word we’re talking about — particularly for those of you who attended school prior to 1980 — we’re talking about the word “retarded.”

For many of you, I know this word was commonplace in discussing folks with developmental and intellectual disabilities. But today, it’s as offensive as calling a Native American an “Indian” or “savage.”

I went to school during the time of transition from exclusion to inclusion. And, I can tell you it wasn’t easy. The first few “experiments” were nothing short of disasters, but eventually worked out the kinks.

And by being inclusive, I learned not only more about those with disabilities, but more about myself.

More than anything, I learned that everyone — regardless of one’s cognative abilties — is worthy of respect and the same level of human dignity as everyone else.

If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.