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Let's Educate Ourselves

By Kaitlyn Bell

It is largely known that at New Hyde Park Memorial High School, the community connecting special education students and general education students is celebrated and unlike many others. Unfortunately with such great involvement and connection comes those who are less understanding of the purpose and stigmatize those who they perceive as different.

Both the positive and negative outlook on those with physical or intellectual disabilities come in different forms, but the negative must be addressed properly in order to stop it. While there are many students who have a great amount of respect, appreciation and love for those with special needs, it is sometimes seen in the other direction, which is extremely harmful and disheartening.

One of the most common ways I have seen this take place is with the use of the "r" word or with an abbreviation of the term “special education.” Considering the term “mental retardation" was used during the early 1900s to classify someone with a disability, the first use of the word documented in 1895, it was not always seen as a derogatory word. But by the 1960s, the word began to be used less in a medical setting and more so as an insult. For over 50 years, the use of the word was purely medical and had no association to society, but once it hit the vocabulary of the general public it became a slur. The casual use of any of these terms is completely unacceptable and degrading, regardless of when they are used. The use of the word is a stab in the back to all of the great progress made over the years to destigmatize treatment of those with a disability.

To me, this shows that some in society use their words as a weapon that they can wield to take others down. This shows that the progress, success and community that has grown for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) still must be nurtured and supported in every way possible. This is solely because if we, as a collective, can recognize the stigma and misconceptions placed upon people with an IDD, then we can cut it at its roots.

As someone who has a close family member with special needs, hearing the word is upsetting in a number of ways, and I feel the need to speak up every time. For others who are not closely connected and know that the use of any of those words is wrong, they may feel less inclined to speak out against it. Although this is true in many different circumstances, this was particularly unique because it has been swept under the rug many times before in the past since most with an IDD have trouble recognizing this stigma, and if they do, they usually can’t verbalize it.

The use of these words is the passive way for ignorant and sometimes hateful people to yield their odious nature onto others. Unfortunately, it is hard to speak out against this for some people due to the word becoming a part of society. It is, in some instances, that people are not fully aware of the negative and hurtful impact the word truly has on those around them. Something I have noticed though is that if someone “slips up” and says any of these words, they immediately look at me, making me and them quite aware they know the true meaning of the word. This minor glance, just a second of time, is where the stigma builds and will continue unless we embrace the community of those with IDD in a proper way.

By understanding that some of the most beautiful, kind, intelligent and good-natured people you will ever meet come from this community and by recognizing that everyone should be treated equally without labels or presumptions, we can get to a place where the use of these words becomes void.

While it does not happen often, there are some situations that the special education community in NHP have been directly mistreated in ways I will never stand for. I do believe that there is an immense amount of good as well, but by pulling the curtain back and taking a look at everything that has been done or said, making the usage of these derogatory words null can hopefully eradicate most instances of mistreatment.

Source by Tina Torre

Jalani Brown, Ryan Varghese, Sara Gustafson and Isabelle Alana celebrate Valentine's Day while promoting inclusion.

The special education community at NHP is wonderful and some of my best friends and favorite people are in that group. They teach me something new every time I see them and always make me laugh and open my eyes to how to be the best and kindest version of myself. By immersing yourself into this community, whether it be through Best Buddies or just becoming friends with these people, you will see everything I see and more. You will always feel supported, appreciated and loved by the special education community at NHP, so there is truly no reason to not reciprocate that back.

There is always room to grow and expand our understanding of others and recognizing and utilizing that is truly what makes a person kind. So, instead of allowing stigma to grow in our community, if you hear something, say something and use your voice for the better.


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