But for our part, we are trying to awaken the world to the need for a new civil rights movement — of the heart. We seek to educate people that a crushing prejudice against people with intellectual disabilities is rampant — a prejudice that assumes that people with significant learning challenges are stupid or hapless or somehow just not worth much. They’re, um, “retarded.” And that attitude is not funny or nuanced or satirical. It’s horrific.
Last week, I tried to assuage the depression of a Special Olympics athlete, an adult, who can’t stop hearing the taunt of “retard” that plagued her through school. She has few friends and struggles with a terrifying sense of isolation. Counseling and medication aren’t enough. There is nowhere she feels she fits in.
Her pain is enough for me to change my language. That’s only a small step and we need many more. But we’re not going to get these changes until and unless we awaken our fellow citizens to the truth: Most of us look down on people with intellectual disabilities, and we don’t even realize it.