Spreading the word to end use of the R-word - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Spreading the word to end use of the R-word

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State Rep. Carl Rollins State Rep. Carl Rollins
Donovan Fornwalt (left) and Daniel Noltemeyer Donovan Fornwalt (left) and Daniel Noltemeyer
Carol Mueller Carol Mueller

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - We probably all remember the children's rhyme "sticks and stones may break your bones," but the feeling about the end of the rhyme has changed. Many believe the injuries you sustain from words can take a lifetime to heal if they heal at all. There is a movement sweeping the country called "Spread the Word to End the Word." In April 2012, the governor and Kentuckiana took its first step to do just that. But the movement has miles to go.

Attitudes are the real disability," said Kentucky State Representative Carl Rollins.

As we all know attitudes are tough to change. But hundreds of families and organizations in Kentuckiana banded together this year to try and change what they could - the law. They campaigned to remove and end what they considered hate speech in statutes, agency names, board names, care facilities, services, programs, diagnoses, titles of chapters and names of non-governmental entities. In short, a legal ban of the R-word.

"I wasn't sure it would pass it all," said Rollins (D-District 56/Midway).

Rollins was trying to get House Bill 485 passed in the General Assembly. A similar law had failed in the past and Rollins said getting this one through was right down to the last minute.

On the final day and in the final hours of the 2012 session, the bill to ban the R-word was approved. For Rollins, whose six-year-old grandson has Down syndrome, it was a professional and personal victory. 

"Lots of people use the R-word in ways that is shouldn't be used," Rollins said. "All we can do as lawmakers is at least change the way we use the word."

As a lawmaker, Rollins knows this is a change of policy. But as a grandfather he realizes it is not a change in people's perception or behavior. Daniel Noltemeyer from the Council on Developmental Disabilities is not worried as much about what is written as he is about the things people say.

"They need to understand more now days because it's in the movies, sports, the mall, the buses," said Noltemeyer, "and I know when I go to those places those people say the actual word. The R-word means retarded."

Once it was a medical diagnosis. Now it's a demeaning slur. Proponents of banning the R-word are not looking to take away First Amendment liberties. They would just like to try and end some of the pain and prejudice that comes along with it.  

"I know it hurts," said Noltemeyer, "because it makes me feel like when I got bullied in high school and some of them come up to me and call me retarded and I feel like don't say it to me personally because you need to know how people can feel." 

"It's not so much about the word," said Donovan Fornwalt, also with the Council on Developmental Disabilities, "because 20 to 30 years from now there'll be another word that's used as a pejorative. It's about respecting the person."

Carol Mueller's sister, Donna, is autistic. Carol also says Donna is awesome, but most folks can't see that because they focus only on the disability.   

"I know that she is more than most people give her credit for," said Carol Mueller. "They don't recognize her as a hearing, feeling, sensing person."

Donna is that and more, because like anyone else Donna is an individual.

Carol said her sister is, "a person who is like you and me, but also needs to be appreciated for their differences." 

That's why Carol wants to ban the "R-word," but not just for her sister's sake.

"It makes us a better society," said Carol.

According to Special Olympics, there are currently 43 states which have passed similar legislation or have similar bills pending. To find out more about the movement and what it means, click on the following link: Spread the Word to End the Word.

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