A couple months ago, I was shopping with Charlotte at a local store. I went into the dressing room to try on a few items, the attendant looked at Charlotte and asked me how old she was. I smiled, responded, and turned to walk back to a room. However, the attendant, looked back at Charlotte, then again at me and "Yeah, one of the associates here had a baby a couple months ago and it turned out to be retarded. It is so sad."
I was in absolute shock. My stomach sank, I immediately felt lightheaded, and all of my senses seemed to leave my body. I didn't say anything else, just walked back and sat in the dressing room. I stared at Charlotte for a few minutes, with tears in my eyes, and tried to interpret exactly what happened. I am pretty sure the dressing room attendant had some sort of disability herself, and after talking about it later on with a friend, I came to the realization she probably had no idea that what she had said was offensive, and was only taking a recent experience she had with babies and trying to relate it to me. I don't think she meant any harm, in fact, I don't even think she knew Charlotte had Down syndrome; but boy did it hurt.
Lets face it. Words can hurt. The word "retarded" and "retard" HURT. Why? Because the word has evolved to hold a very negative meaning. People use this word and forms of this word to talk about negative things. Using the word in any context is not okay, and is very offensive. Legislation has been passed, and the r-word is no longer used in any legal documents. "Mental Retardation" is a term of the past.
I dread the day that someone calls Charlotte retarded. I dread the day that someone calls Katherine and Will's sister a retard. I hope that through awareness and education, this day won't come.
Today, 3-2-11, is "Spread the Word to End the Word" day. Please visit this website and sign the pledge, to end the word. If you could also share the link on your facebook page that would be great.
Also, since my experience in the dressing room, I have thought at length about how I would respond to a situation like this in the future. I am ashamed that I let this go (I was a little shaken up at the time!), because I can't do my part to promote awareness if I don't use opportunities like this to educate.