Sophomore Kaitlin Ernst feels “mad” when she hears others use the words “retard” or “retarded” in a negative way.
“I think that it’s really ridiculous how so many people use the word ‘retarded’ as a slang,” said Ernst, whose friends have family members with disabilities. “I think no one should say it like that.”
Ernst was one of more than 600 students and staff members at La Salle-Peru Township High School who took a pledge Wednesday to stop using “the R-word” in a derogatory way.
The first Wednesday in March is the annual day of awareness for the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign, which is supported by Special Olympics, Best Buddies and other organizations. The L-P LEAD (Leadership, Education and Awareness of Disabilities) student group — a coalition of students with and without disabilities — organized the campaign at L-P by collecting pledges during the school’s three lunch periods.
LEAD member Michelle Grotti, a senior, described the campaign as “a movement.”
“I hear a lot of people say it, and they don’t even think about it any more,” Grotti said. “It’s disrespectful and ignorant because people don’t know what it really means.”
Senior Emily Nadler explained that the “R-word,” correctly used, meant “slow,” not “stupid,” as her special education teacher, Jayme Salazar, told the students.
“It does not make you stupid,” Nadler said. “Your brain is telling you to think slower.”
Nadler says the word “bothers” and “kind of irritates people.”
“We’re doing this to make sure people aren’t using inappropriate language,” she said. “That’s all we’re trying to do — is tell them to stop using the word ‘retard.’”
Salazar teaches 10 students with intellectual disabilities in the school’s Goals Program. She emphasized that students in special education aren’t looking for “special” treatment, but want to be respected the same way students without disabilities would want respect.
Ways to respect people with disabilities, according to Salazar, are pretty simple. She suggested looking people in the eyes and not changing tone of voice when speaking to them, as well as eliminating use of the “R-word.”
Some of Salazar’s students, along with other LEAD members, called on the L-P community to stop using the “R-word” in a video released by the school on Tuesday.
“I think people are amazed by my students standing up for themselves,” Salazar said. “They’re pretty brave.”
Rachel Stella can be reached at (815) 220-6933 or email@example.com.