Label jars, not people - Rosa's Law

Today's guest blogger/guest Upcyclist is a best friend and colleague, Dr. I.  I've been begging Dr. I to join me on Upcycled Education and she finally took me up on it.  Dr. I is clever, humorous and calls it like she sees it.  My kind of person.
Take it away, Dr. I.

The tides are changing, and I’m thrilled.  The use of the “r-word” has been a thorn in my side for over ten years.  I’m an educator who teaches about special education but I also have a family member who has an intellectual disability.  My Uncle Bob, who just turned 58, was born with hydrocephalus (water on the brain).  At the time of his birth, there was a movement afoot in the United States to close institutions for those with intellectual disabilities so that these individuals could remain with their families and better integrate into society.  A very progressive idea for the time; however, I wish the term “mentally retarded” would have been shut down along with the institutions. 
What started as clinical term, the term “mentally retarded” and its pejorative cousin “retard” have been used to degrade people with intellectual disabilities.  What is even more abhorrent, in my humble opinion, is the use of the r-word as slang.  I can’t tell you how many well-educated friends and family members of mine still use this word, often to refer to something silly they did.  I take every chance I can to correct them (even in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner!).  When I teach a college course on special education, I begin the first day by writing the r-word on the board in a large circle.  I then cross it out with a red marker and an excessive amount of vehemence!  I hope I’ve made an impression.

Image from Daylife; Text by Jen
What has made a significant impression is the passage of Rosa’s Law (S.2781), signed into federal law by President Obama on October 5, 2010.  The law removes the terms “mentally retarded” and “mental retardation” from federal health, education, and labor policies and replaces them with the term “individual with an intellectual disability” or “intellectual disability”.  This change in terms evokes the kind of change in thinking we need.  Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics, Dr. Timothy P. Shriver remarked:  “Respect, value, and dignity – everyone deserves to be treated this way, including people with intellectual disabilities.”
Rosa’s Law was initiated in 2009 by a family in Maryland who has four children one of whom, Rosa, has Down syndrome.  Rosa’s mother Nina was discouraged to find that Rosa’s school referred to her as retarded (a term that was not allowed in their home).  Nina joined forces with other parents and her state delegate to first introduce the bill to the Maryland General Assembly.  A hearing was held to discuss the implications of changing the term.  Several people gave testimony, but the most significant words came from Rosa’s 11-year-old brother when he said, “What you call people is how you treat them.”
I urge you to put a stop to the r-word.  If television networks like FOX, F/X, and MTV are now bleeping out the word, we all can.  Visit www.r-word.org to join the movement and “spread the word to end the word” …. or you might just see me at your next  Thanksgiving dinner!

Thanks, Dr. I.  I'd love to have you over for Thanksgiving;  you'll never  hear the r-word from me or my family!
Best,
Jen

31 comments:

  1. This is a great way to spread the word. I love it. I am working on getting my masters in Special Education and I fine this to be valuable information, not just for special education teachers and general education teachers too. I can't tell you how many times I have heard fellow classmates who know about this movement use the "r-word" to describe something funny they saw or did. Thank you Dr. I and Upcycled Education for spreading the word to end the word.

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    1. The R word is a word that makes me cringe everytime I hear it. I'm truly blessed to work with invididuals who have "special abilities." The R words I use to describe these great individuals. Real, resourceful, respectful, really caring, rarely complain, really honest, really a true friend, really make my day everyday, really misunderstood by society, really some of the msot beautiful people you will ever meet. I thank god everyday for giving me the chance to work with such wonderful individuals. My job is to make a difference in their lives. These great individuals make a difference, big difference, in my life every day by just ebing themselves. Thnak you for letting me post my thoughts. Leon F.

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    2. I also was unaware of this movement,but am glad I am now.I also appreciate that the term has evolved into a more civil term.Society learned from yet another mistake.The sad thing is undoing all the harm that word has done like soo many others like the N-word.We have to start somewhere maybey very household should have a r-word jar like the cursing jar that they put money in everytime they say it.Considering I am broke you will never hear me say it(not that I say it anyway)the point is this change like soo many others will take time to adjust,just continue to correct when you see fit and spread the word..The R-word is dead! and Rosa rocks!! PAULA M

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  2. Dear fantastic anonymous blog reader,

    I couldn't agree with you more.

    Thanks for commenting,
    Jen

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  3. Prof. Lara,
    I just wanted to say,That this is great that you could put this out here. I will be joining the movement on stopping the r-word in my household and anyone else's that I might here it in.

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  4. I think that Rosa's Law is a great idea and start to get the r-word out of society because now when our children grow up they will never even have heard of it, intellectual disability will be all they know. I agree completely with this new law and I, like you Professor Lara, have a family member with an intellectual disability and find it rude and degrading when they are referred to using the r-word. I do hear it misused as slang in society and it would be hypocritical of me to say that it doesn't slip out of my mouth once in a while but I, along with the rest of society, will be erasing it from my vocabulary.

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    1. I lie the point you made about how the new law is great because it betters our fututre children by not even teaching them the word at all. People today refer to the r-word as an insult which our future generations should not hear or use in that manner. I can erlate to the fact that you have an intellectual disabled person in your family. I myself have a close family memeber who suffers from an intellectual disability and I never want anyone to ever refer to him as the r-word.

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  5. The r-word is definitely used too much in society today. I agree with Rosa's Law 100%. It's a great way to get people to actually understand that using the r-word is wrong. It's obviously a big deal in society to make a law about it. I like the term "intellectual disability" SOOOO much better! And it is also true that many people use the r-word in slang, I also have done that a few times, but i try my hardest to not use it. I enjoyed reading this blog, I didn't know anything about Rosa's Law, so this informed me a lot! I loved what he brother said " what you call people is how you treat them". He couldn't have said it any better! People need to start thinking twice before using the r-word, and I hope this law will help them do so!

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  6. The r-word is easily becoming the equivalent of the n-word; a term, which was wrongfully accepted during a time period that no longer exists. Similar to the n-word the r-word and has to be transitioned out of society’s vocabulary. Both words hold a definition of ignorance. Not ignorance on the behalf of the person they are used against, but more so the person using them. Sadly enough as refreshing as the term intellectually disabled seems in current times, if may also be frowned upon in the coming years. Rosa’s Law is the perfect method to take a stronger stand against wrong doing and equality. Pray fully with this law in place the transition period will be dramatically reduced.

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  7. I have a supervisor at work who does not tolerate the r-word personally. He politely asks for people to not say that word as his brother is mentally handicapped. i really respect his way of trying to stop the word to be used, it can be very offensive to people and it really isn't the correct way to describe someone with a problem such as that. I think everyone should follow his example and try to make people understand that it isn't a word to be used so carefree

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  8. I have always objected to the R word and agree with Rosa's law completely. I feel that people use this word because they arent educated enough on the meaning, and what it does to other individuals when they hear it. I have never let that word be used in my household or around me without correcting the person using it.Im hoping that this law will open the eyes of people who use this word, and use it loosely so they will feel the way we all do and stop. Stacey Hogan

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  9. I think the r-word is one of the most used, degrading words I hear. I have always taken offense to the r-word even though I am not or do not have any intellectually disabled friends or family. When I think of, or hear, the r-word it automatically reminds me of middle and high school. Almost every day when the special classes would walk by some clown would call them the r-word or any other degrading name they could muster up. Several of the intellectually disabled kids could talk quite well and would lash out at the offender. I always felt for them becuase they were already going through enough and felt they did not need some bonehead putting them down. I was not aware of Obama passing Rosa's Law but I think it is an advancement for society to change the way we think and feel. I completely agree that you treat people the way you address them. These people have names and a voice and deserve to be treated as such.
    Sherri Johnson

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  10. To be honest,I have never heard of Rosa's Law until I read this blog. It fills my heart with a peace to know that"retard" will be phased out,one day. I am a mother of four. My kids have used that word as slang.Hearing it from other kids who they heard it from others,so on,and so on. Too many generations before ours,full of ignorance. I have always corrected my kids whenever I have heard them use the "R" word. Over time of consistently letting them know I do not like that word and why not to use it. They correct themselves on their own. So seeing the change I am doing with my kids,I can only imagine the changes we are doing within out country! And it started with one person,God Bless America!! Shannon L. HUS 120,875

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  11. There are a myriad of words that could be removed from the USA(North American) society's vocabulary (remembering that Central and South American citizens are Americans too!). Removal of the "R" word from Federal education, health and labor policies couldn't have come sooner. I was excited to discover that a local family spearheaded the fight for what's R-ight. As a parent with a child who receives special education services due to developmental and intellectual disabilities, I greatly appreciate Rosa's Law. Never has the "R" word been used or referenced in my home, and this was to the benefit of all of my children. Surely, Rosa's Law and its proper usage will greatly benefit children and adults (the entire nation) for many generations to come.

    T. Greene FA 2011

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  12. This is a really good point. the "r" word is over used and missed understood. It drives my nuts when im out with friends or just out in public and all i hear is people saying it over and over again and laughing about it. Not only is it a hurtful word to others but i also dont think alot of people really know the right way to use it. It actually shouldnt even be used.Everyone is the same, we are have a different ways..

    Brandi B

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  13. "spread the word to end the word"! Everything about this makes me happy. I have always corrected people about saying the r-word and now at one of my job none of the employees use the word. Some don't just because they don't want to offend me, others because they realize the impact, and the ripple effect. Excuses I have heard are "Oh I wasn't saying it to anyone who is." Well I'm sorry, it just should never be used. Not only is it ignorant, but it sets a bad example. We talk about students self-esteem being low, heres one way to start... STOP THE R WORD!!!
    (I get a little up in arms about this topic.)
    Lucy A

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  14. I think that ending the use of the r-word is wonderful. Personally, I am not too fond of disability as a word either. I love the fact that Prof. Lara uses difference instead of disability. To me, the word disability still sets limits on what you can and cannot do. Helen Keller was blind and deaf. She traveled the country and lectured at universities. Albert Einstein was an autistic by today's definitions and he redefined our understanding of the universe. Students need not be limited by a label. I firmly believe that having a learning difference is an asset to be taken advantage of, not a disorder to be treated.
    Jackie H.

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  15. I love love love LOVE this post. I can't even begin to explain how frustrating it is and how saddened I become when I hear someone using the "r-word." I understand that before the implementation of Rosa's Law, the "r-word" was acceptable but that is no longer true. I myself have been guilty of using the "r-word" but I have made a conscious effort to remove it from my vocabulary. I know that the students receiving Special Education services in the public education system can already feel ostracized, why add to that feeling with the use of the "r-word." After watching "Autism the Musical" I was given an intimate look at the feelings of those children in Special Education. Receiving special services in class automatically leads to bullying; let's be frank, "kids can be mean." The removal of "r-word" is essential to mainstreaming special needs children and allowing them to learn in a true LRE; a room without a derogatory word looming over their heads.
    *Carrie S

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  16. Dear Amazing Students and Blog Readers - Thank you for posting such thoughtful comments about Rosa's Law and its impact. It really shows how one person, family, and one law can positively affect change.

    Jen

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  17. I had never heard of Rosa's Law, and find it interesting this was going on so "close to home"

    It is quite hard not to sound "judgmental" or "harsh" or "condescending" when talking about something you may have no experience with.

    I am the MOST soft-hearted sympathetic person around, and I feel certain, I am NOT on the cutting edge of all the politically correct lingo, regarding many subjects........ of which Mental Retardation vs. Rosa is just one. We are going to need a new word for "normal" kids, as now that word "normal" sounds wrong to me when I am trying to discuss the population of the many and varied type of kids we are studying in our class/EDU214. Prof Lara does a great job creatively addressing all this type stuff....so this will rub off onto me. Thanks for that. Liz T. EDU 214

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  18. Liz - I think the message at the end of the day is that people are people - no matter their ability or disability. If we can remember that simple message, then any labels we use will be of love sans judging.

    Jen

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  19. Great blog! My youngest sister also has an intellectual disability, and one of my pet peeves is when someone uses the r-word! Especially around her! Hopefully by spreading the word people will be more conscience of their word choice.

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    1. Alison - My bet is you already are spreading the word.

      Thanks for being such a lovely student this semester,
      Jen

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  20. I agree with the law to not use the r-word because it's offensive. I have an Uncle who is also intellectually disabled now because of a car accident years ago in his early 30's. I do not ever want to hear anyone refer to my Uncle as the r-word because he is a wonderful man who didn't as for what happened and shouldn't be referred to as an insulting word. I defantly hear the r-word misused constantly by people referring to someone who did something wrong or said something dumb, which isn't right. A person with intellectual disabilities should not be in a catagory with people saying or doing something dumb because people with disabilities are not dumb. I'm glad that people are now bringing awareness about that word so people really know the hurt and insult that it brings to other's.

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    1. Lindsay - Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I couldn't agree with you more!

      Jen

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  21. Do people realy even think when they use this word? It may sound strange, but I never knew that the R-word was even a medical condition until I was in 7th grade. For years this word had been used around me growing up only to slander people for making simple mistakes that the ones who use it make also. It was like people where trying to offend people with intelectual disabilities intentionaly.
    The most chaotic use of the word that I can recal was when I was playing football in high school and a varsity captain asked a freshman JV player if he was one. Low and behold the freshman did infact have an intelectual disability, and immediatly started to cry in the locker room. That day in practice they ended up in a fist fight with each other and only the captain was suspended from school as well as the team. Why can some people just not understand how much the term actually hurts people?

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    1. Hey Richard I agree that a log of people dont even see it as a medical term because it is used so loosely in other areas, like you just explained. Poor kid, not only would it be insensative to scream at someone, but to actually find out he had a disability this way!

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    2. Richard - Your football example brings this issue to light. We use terms that we think aren't hurtful, but in the end, they contribute to a misunderstood perception of what ID really means and its effects.

      Jen

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  22. I think that like the author said, the word ‘retarded’ should have been changed along time ago; however, it’s up to the people it affects to elicit change. I do find that people, including myself, have used the word inappropriately—“I’m not retarded” for instance. I also heard it used on Judge Judy one time and she became furious stating that it was unacceptable word to be used in her court. The think about it is that it has become so ingrained in our culture that people who use it in a lackluster way are most likely not referring to the type of people it use to represent. Just like how the ‘n’ word is used with different meaning to some, others don’t want to hear it at all. These words will not disappear from out society overnight, but Rosa’s brother had it right—we develop stereotypes with words and we treat people based off of those stereotypes so why not start off on the right foot!


    Caren K

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    1. Caren - I agree. We tend to stereotype people based on our perception and them and using words like "retarded" do not contribute to that perception being a positive one.

      Jen

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  23. That kind of R word is really important in writing. Many things that you can think that is precise and correct can still be appreciative, it would only matter on how are you going to make it that one. Also, it's better to practice you writing and make it more durable to read on. Try to visit top reviews at furiousreview.com and this can surely help you in reviewing your work into the fullest extent that anyone would surely appreciate. You can also use this for your own to know your mistake and avoid to use it again.

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