Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Spread the Word to End the Word

I'm back from my magnificent weekend at Island Dolphin Care! I have a ton to say about this weekend/my workouts/life in general, but I'm going to save that for another day because I have something important I'd like to dedicate this post to. Plus, be on the lookout for a product review later this week!!!

Today is "Spread the Word to End the Word Day" and Spread the Word to End the Word is a campaign that is very near and dear to my heart. Before I talk about that, though, I'm going to share something with you that is near to my sister's, Allie, heart! She has entered into a contest to win a missions trip sponsored by Toms Shoes where she would be given the opportunity to hand out shoes to children in need. You can read her entry and vote for her (please do!! it would mean the world to her) by clicking here. Unfortunately, you can only vote once, but please vote and if you know no one else who is entering, please share with your friends! Voting continues for another month, so please vote!!

Onto the event today. Here is the description of the campaign taken from their Facebook page:
"Spread the Word to End the Word™ is an ongoing effort by Special Olympics, Best Buddies and our supporters to raise the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the word “retard(ed)” and encourage people to pledge to stop using the R-word. The campaign, created by youth, is intended to engage schools organizations and communities to rally and pledge their support at and to promote the inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.It is time to address the minority slur “retard(ed)” and raise the consciousness of society to its hurtful effects. This year's day of awareness to Spread the Word to End the Word is almost here! Join thousands of young people in communities around the world on 03.07.12 in pledging to End the R-word! Read below to see what YOU can do, or visit to learn how you can Spread the Word to End the Word."

I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time working with children and young adults with special needs. From Kindergarten to 3rd grade, I was enrolled in the first "neurotypical" class at a school that was only opened to children with special needs before my class was enrolled. The principal had reached out to parents of children without disabilities who lived in the neighborhood, but only 12 or so were willing to send their children to this school, so I had the amazing opportunity of having one-on-one interactions with my teachers as well as getting to play with other students with different abilities. I believe that this experience allowed me to develop patience and tolerance and helped mold me into the person I am today. The school only went up to 3rd grade, so when I went to a different public school for 4th - 8th grade, I was immediately picked on and called the "r-word." It hurt. When I got to college, I became involved with the Learning Is For Everyone (LIFE) program on my college's campus. This program is designed to give the college experience to students with learning and developmental disabilities who did not graduate high school. Students attend classes that help them to develop life skills (improve reading, make change, hold conversations, etc.) as well as choose a class that interests them. We had students take band, Japanese, WWII History courses, film courses, and a lot of other courses that held their interest. These students were given the opportunity to make new friends as well as participate in a college class. They also had the chance to live on campus (with a mentor) and participate in any clubs that they wish. These students helped change my view on the world. They were always incredibly happy, everyone on campus knew them, and they were very in tune with others around them. They taught me to take life one day at a time and to not let the little things get me down. They provided me with hours of laughter and it was very obvious that they loved me as much as I loved them. They were my happy place when I was having a tough time during my junior year of college. The first class will graduate this year, and I am so proud. I wish I could be there to see them walk across the stage and get their certificate. After I graduated college, I had the opportunity to intern at Island Dolphin Care. Island Dolphin Care is a facility that provides dolphin assisted therapy to kids with special needs as well as for veterans who were wounded in war. It is an amazing facility and I would be so happy to be able to work there one day. All of the workers and volunteers have become my family and I try to get there as often as I can. I worked with so many amazing children and families and I cried my eyes out the day that I had to leave. One mom, who was very stoic during her family's 2-week visit, gave me a hug on the last day and when she pulled away, she was crying. She said to me, "don't ever stop working with children. Don't ever stop doing what you do. This is your calling and this is what you are supposed to do." I can't even put into words what I feel when I'm there or what I learned when I was there. It is a place that is very near and dear to my heart. I believe that what that mom said to me is very true and when I finish grad school, I would like to be involved in bringing marine science education to students with special needs. I have to figure out the logistics of this, but maybe some day I can be a full-time staffer at IDC ;) ;) I feel as though I do my best work when I am working with special populations and I would love to spend my life bringing joy into the lives of those who have already brought me so much joy in my short time on this planet. Watch out world, I'm coming for ya!

Given my background, it might be easy to see why I loathe the "r-word." I physically cringe when I hear it. To me, the "r-word" holds the equivalence of hearing the "n-word" or hearing someone use "gay" as a derogatory manner or hearing someone call another person a "fag." I understand that these words have become a part of our culture and that the "r-word" is still recognized in some facets of medical literature, but I think that words such as these are degrading to human beings. Even if you are using the "r-word" as a synonym for "stupid", "dumb", or "weird", and not as an attack on someone with a special need, there are better words to use. Using the "r-word" hurts those who have a special need or hurts those who care for a loved one with a special need or who know someone who has a special need. Using the "r-word" also implies that there is something wrong with having a disability or that there is something wrong with being different. There is nothing wrong with being different, and it is important to think before we speak. I always ask my friends and families to not use this word, and my campers were asked not to use this word as well over the summer. I categorized it as bullying, because even if it is unintentional, the use of the "r-word" is degrading to all human beings. Let's begin to think of each other as individuals and as human beings and begin to love one another. We can express this love through words and actions, and let's start by pledging to not use the "r-word" in any of our conversations. You can sign the pledge here

To learn more about this cause, please visit: .

Have a great Wednesday! Please take the pledge, and please don't forget to Vote for Allie!!