A New Vision for the Retarded: The R word and the Past
"I'm sorry, your insurance claim was denied," said the clear voice of a woman on the phone. The rejection letter arrived in the mail a day earlier. This wasn't a shock, but the rest of the conversation was a surprise.
Most likely, this woman dealt out rejection claims most of the day. Perhaps her entire job was delivering bad news. We went over a few of the facts of the claim. I requested a special needs stroller for my son because he can't walk distances and breaks down at a moment's notice. Many times I have to carry him long distances. In parking lots, I watch all the elements like a cat stalking the safari. Backing out cars, passing trucks, stray carts, running into roads are a few of the constant stresses to get from one place to anther (that's just the drama of the parking lot - then we face the store!). Being able to safely constrain him would give him the ability to participate more in life. Plus, as a single parent, I take him many places with me.
The person for the insurance company was doing her best to empathize. When I told her my son had Down Syndrome and explained the reasons he needs a special stroller, I could almost hear her nodding at the other end.
"I know very much what you are talking about," she said. "My father worked for a place called, A New Vision for the Retarded."
"Uh huh," I said.
"I'm sorry, but that's what they called it back then," she said. That "R" word creeps up like a persistent weed that hangs tight to its roots. Programs in the past often used the word in the title or description of the services. For example, John F. Kennedy created the President’s Panel on Mental Retardation. I grew up with the R word; it was/is a part of our lexicon. Even today, I feel like I want to grab it to describe an issue my son is facing. Is it the word? Probably not. Is it the way we use it? Probably so. Is it the way a group feels when we use words despite their objections? Words cut deep. Forget the sticks and stones, words leave scars hidden behind pride and pain.
I took no offense to the woman's attempt to connect. It's not the first time the "R" word was tossed our way and most likely won't be the last.
"Have a nice day," she said. I hung up the phone and proceeded to do just that.