Tracy Morgan has recently joined the line of celebrities and politicians who casually, and oh-so-naturally, drop the R-word in heightened conversation. After being condemned widely throughout the media for anti-gay comments, the “30 Rock” star changed his performance focus to those with physical disabilities. Lady Gaga, who is a crusader for gay rights, somehow thought it acceptable to haphazardly use the word to defend her originality of lyrics, and then to make light of wheelchair use in a stage show. Even Rahm Emanuel let it slip last year in an off-handed comment about Senate liberals. In all instances, however unintended, the word, “retard,” struck a delicate chord with the 54 million Americans living with a disability and the millions more defending civil rights and respect.
Its not difficult to understand why the R-word is taken with such offense. Along with a slew of derogatory terms for Jews, African Americans, and gays, it harkens back to long periods of oppression and abuse in which people with disabilities were mocked, isolated in institutions, and even sterilized. But Gaga, Morgan, and the former Chief of Staff are not the only ones guilty of such a transgression. On Regis & Kelly last August, Jennifer Aniston likened a photo shoot to playing dress-up, saying, “I do it for a living, like a retard.” Even our own President has slipped up, making light of his bowling skills through association with the Special Olympics.
Here at Handi-lift, our mission is Accessibility with Dignity. So lets encourage dignity for those who deserve it through People First Language and a commitment to the cause. Spread the Word to End the Word is taking pledges to eliminate the R-word from the media and our vocabularies. Rahm Emanuel took the pledge, along with Stephen Colbert and the entire cast of Glee - how about you too?