Respect is the new R-Word

Students and their buddies speak about harmful effects of using the R-word

By on March 6, 2018

Morgan Tencza | The Quinnipiac Chronicle
Everyone knows the harmful impact of being called names. This is especially true for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Quinnipiac Best Buddies, however, aims to spread awareness about the harmful impact of the r-word and to end inappropriate use.

Quinnipiac Best Buddies is part of an international organization that pairs individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities with college students. Quinnipiac Best Buddies works with a number of host sights or transitional programs around Connecticut. These transitional programs consist of people with IDD who have just graduated high school but are not working yet. The main goal of the program is to teach people with intellectual and developmental disabilities about job skills, community skills and independence. Students who join Quinnipiac Best Buddies have the option of becoming a buddy or an associate member.

The main goal of “Spread the Word to End the Word” was to bring awareness to the harmful impact of using the r-word in casual conversation. The event is an outlet for individuals with IDD and Quinnipiac students to voice how the word hurts them through creative channels such as singing songs and giving speeches.

Quinnipiac students and their buddies casually strolled into the Mount Carmel Auditorium on Monday night, giving each other hugs and taking pictures with one another. A table was set up at the entrance with free wristbands and a colorful piece of paper enticing those to enter to sign their names. At each seat there were stickers with the quote “Respect is the new R-word.” The sense of community and inclusion was prominent as the crowd continued to grow larger.

The event starts with a poignant video of a girl named Amber with IDD being paired with a buddy named Ali. The video portrays the importance of the buddies in people’s lives who have IDD. Students and their buddies then approach the podium at the front of the room and tell anecdotal stories or show short videos about the fun times they have shared together and illustrate the impact of their friendship. Some of the activities the buddies do together involve dressing up for Halloween, getting food together, and karaoke.

Angie, one of the buddies, exclaimed in her speech, “We all want to be treated with respect. We want friendship, jobs and to be treated like everyone else.”

A common misperception about people with IDD is that they are unable to perform normal tasks. The buddies at “Spread the Word to End the Word” broke this stereotype. Some own individual businesses and conduct their own radio shows.

The r-word is an outdated medical term that was removed from medical language by former U.S. president, Barack Obama in 2010 when he signed “Rosa’s Law” bill. The bill removed terms such as “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal health, education and labor policy. New terms that use people first language such as “individual with an intellectual disability” and “intellectual disability” became the appropriate terms to describe an individual.

Nick Donohue, President of Quinnipiac Best Buddies commented, “We aim at ending the use of the r-word as a starting point toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people. Using the r-word can lead to negative attitudes and actions towards people with disabilities.”

Morgan Tencza | The Quinnipiac Chronicle
According to senior Vice President of Quinnipiac Best Buddies, Erin Schirra, using the r-word equates adjectives such as “dumb” or “stupid” with people with intellectually and developmentally disabilities.

“Throughout time, our society has utilized the r-word and incorporated it into our day-to-day language,” Schirra said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize the impact the r-word has on a lot of people in our community.”

These labels that are used to describe people with IDD are politically incorrect and dehumanizing.

“It takes our society a step back,” Schirra said. “We are trying really hard to help people speak in politically correct terms and having inclusive language and inclusive thoughts. We are really making strides in regards to the word and the role of people with IDD and I think that when people use the r-word in day to day language it takes all the steps we’ve taken and it brings it back.”

Quinnipiac Best Buddies fosters these important friendships between students and individuals with IDD and facilitates a relationship that is lifelong.

“Taking someone’s voice away from them is so damaging but once you give someone their voice back, even if they don’t want to talk, but once you give it back to them and they have it, they know that they are heard and that people want them to be there” Schirra said.


About Hannah Tebo