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Monday, June 10, 2013

Speaking Up

A couple of weeks ago I was in a situation where someone used the "r-word" in a conversation with me.

I was in a store, checking out, and found myself at the register with a guy who had the word "manager" on his name tag.

I scanned my shopper reward card and as my information came up on his screen he attempted to address me by my name. As he got to my last name he paused and stumbled a bit in trying to pronounce it. I said my last name for him.

That's when he said, "I have trouble pronouncing names, I just end up sounding retarded."

Say what?!

My mind is thinking: You're the manager of the store. You should present yourself as more professional, especially when you're checking out a customer you don't know. You really had to say that? You couldn't stop at just saying 'I have trouble pronouncing names.'

And what does that even mean? You have trouble pronouncing names so you sound retarded.

So you sound like someone who has an intellectual disability and has trouble speaking?

So you sound like someone who has an intellectual disability and low muscle tone which makes enunciating certain sounds difficult for them?

So you sound like someone like....hmmm...my daughter? Someone who does her best to speak her words and tries to get her brain to connect the dots between making her mouth, tongue, and lips all work in sync to come together for perfect speech ... yet it doesn't happen. There are still times we, her family, have trouble understanding her. Hence the whole "Ms Frog had a baby snake" conversation.

Of course this guy knew none of this. Kayla wasn't with me. He didn't know I have a daughter with an intellectual disability.

But the point is, there was no reason for him to make that comparison in the first place. There was no reason for him to compare his trouble pronouncing names with sounding 'retarded.'

Was he expecting me to laugh at his little joke and find that funny?

I didn't immediately say anything (you know, my issue with uncomfortableness in confronting someone about their usage of the r-word). But while he was finishing with my transaction I kept telling myself to "say something! Find your backbone! Speak up! Advocate! An opportunity presented itself for you to find your voice...use it!"

So I did. I wouldn't say I was eloquent. I didn't know what to say and I know I spoke quickly and stumbled over myself. I just said something like, "Next time could you not use the word retarded? I have a daughter who has an intellectual disability and I'd just ask that you think before using that word again."

Of course he was apologetic and appeared embarrassed. I think we both felt a bit awkward. But I did it. I finally spoke up. I finally let someone know how I felt after hearing them use the r-word. I finally found my voice and my backbone.

And maybe, just maybe, (and hopefully), he will think about it the next time he goes to casually throw out that word in a conversation.

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Lisa said...

good for you! I've decided a few minutes of discomfort is worth the possibility that someone will think next time. Plus instead of dwelling on it and feeling unhappy I can be a little proud of myself and move on.

LJ said...

we're nice people. we're good people and speaking up kind of goes against that but heck with being nice anymore! I speak up all the time to anyone and everyone regardless of who they are. Of course I try to do it in a respectful way and if they do get hurt I appologize. but yeah we just gotta speak up when the moment is neccessary.

Stephanie said...

I'm glad you said something. Even if it makes us uncomfortable, we need to remind ourselves that it's for our kids who don't deserve to be connected to being/acting stupid/dumb/bad/etc.

Bailey's Leaf said...

I'm so proud of you for saying something. I know it was hard, but definitely necessary.

Raelyn said...

Hi, I am Raelyn, and my youngest brother also has Down syndrome, like your Beautifully Unique blue-eyed little girl. I, too, live with learning disabilities. I remember a time, several years back, when my brother was young. Some kid had been making fun of another by calling him retarded. Over and over and over again. I never said anything. But for the very first time in my entire life {About nine years!!}, that word stung. Because I knew its definition. Experts say that my brother is retarded. But they are wrong!! My brother's very bright, and so is your daughter!!

Anonymous said...

yes quite uncomfortable, but needed to be said,as someone mentioned "in a quiet, polite way" and because he was embarrased, he will remember. good for you, Michelle. You did it. it was not that you were out looking for a situation, it just happened. On behalf of Kayla, Thank you and the same for you, thank you love mom

my family said...

uncomfortable for a moment maybe, and he (like many people) probably didnt mean it to hurt someone but people need to think before they speak and maybe that one encounter may have him thinking next time he says that.

if we all speak up and explain why that word it not ok to use others may "get it", and just like you we dont have to get into technicalities just a simple explanation would do:)
good for you and speaking up

Theresa said...

Good Job, momma! Each time you speak up it will get a little easier. love you, Theresa.