POSTED AT 10:32 AM ET, 02/17/2010
The bigotry behind the word 'retard'
Professor and author Christopher M. Fairman ["The case against banning the word 'retard,' " Outlook, Feb. 14] made good arguments about the limits of language to effect change in behavior and attitude, as well as about the nuanced ways in which words such as "retard," "queer" and "gay" can carry multiple meanings, some of which intend no insult or humiliation.
But I believe he missed the point of the campaign by people who have intellectual disabilities, their friends, advocates and tens of thousands of individuals and dozens of organizations: We are fighting a word because it represents one of the most stubborn and persistent stigmas in history. Millions of people have a prejudice they often are not even aware of. It is much bigger than a word, but words matter. And the word "retard," whatever its history, reflects a massive problem.Continue reading this post »
POSTED AT 12:01 AM ET, 01/18/2010
Disabled have a dream, too
Chubbs Stillman, a special education high school senior, would make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proud. When Dr. King invited Americans to rely on "soul power" to fuel his dream, he could scarcely have imagined how Chubbs would use it to change a small high school in Missouri.
It all became clear on the night of January 4 when a Kirkwood High School basketball game turned into Chubbs's very own showcase of righteousness. If it had been an ordinary game over the holiday break, the crowd would have been sparse. But all it took to fill the gym on that cold night was the word from Coach Bill Gunn: "Chubbs is going to play."
Students turned out in droves. The stands were packed. It seemed as though every kid at Kirkwood wanted to be there to cheer for Chubbs Stillman. It had never seemed to matter that Chubbs was in special education--that he has an intellectual disability. He was going to play varsity, and the student body was united in excitement.
POSTED AT 12:43 AM ET, 12/24/2009
Silent night, renewed
"Silent Night" may be the words to our most popular Christmas song, but they don't describe our Christmas season. The days leading up to our most action-packed holiday are dominated by a frenzy of gift-giving and the stress of travel, family and merrymaking. Living through Christmas is enough to make an entire country long, like Tiger Woods, for an "indefinite break."
If Christmas is to be meaningful today, it needs a spiritual makeover. It needs an inward turn.Continue reading this post »
POSTED AT 9:43 PM ET, 12/23/2009
"Silent Night" may be the words to our most popular Christmas song,
but they don't describe our Christmas season. The days leading up to
our most action packed holiday are dominated by a frenzy of
- Hide quoted text -
gift-giving and the stress of travel, family and merrymaking. Living
through Christmas is enough to make an entire country long, like Tiger
Woods, for an "indefinite break." [good line]
If Christmas is to be meaningful today, it needs a spiritual makeover.Continue reading this post »
POSTED AT 9:56 AM ET, 10/13/2009
Season of grief
In August, my mother died. So did her last living brother, my uncle. I haven't written a word since then. I've tried, but nothing came. I'm grateful for the kindness and patience of all those who have reached out to support me during these days of grief.
Death is one experience we all have in common, but it is also among our most personal. My mother's death is just like your mother's except it isn't. Every person who dies is unique; so too is every person who survives them. The tangle of loss and recovery that accompanies each death, too, is unique. No one really knows another's journey.
But there is one universal. Death always means that everything having to do with this world has run out. The tangible, visible, touchable is gone. All the tools of medicine failed. When the doctor says there's nothing more she can do, it's time to close the door on the solutions of the world. From here on in, the answers have to come from elsewhere.
POSTED AT 11:19 AM ET, 07/23/2009
The Perfect Job for Sarah Palin
Amid all the babble about Sarah Palin's recent resignation as Alaska's governor and amid all the speculation about her potential presidential bid, few have noted a new job for which she is eminently qualified: civil rights leader for people with intellectual
The current fuss about Palin adds up to nothing more than posturing, spinning and playground name-calling. It's what makes politics distasteful to so many. If I were her, I'd ignore all of it and forge ahead in a new direction, one where she could make a real difference.
All around the world, parents of children with Down Syndrome struggle against the stings of prejudice and fear while seeking acceptance for their children. There are precious few champions of this cause. The struggle of people with intellectual disabilities is an authentic civil rights movement, one in which Palin carries powerful credentials. Her infant son Trig has Down Syndrome.Continue reading this post »
POSTED AT 12:09 AM ET, 06/21/2009
In recent days, President Barack Obama has led a series of discussions and events on fatherhood. "There is no excuse," he said at the White House on Friday, "not to be involved with your children."
Sounds good. I can't think of a single father I know who would disagree.
But on Monday morning, I and most of the fathers I know will be at work, not at home with our children. If I were to call a few, I would find them traveling for work, not planning to be home for several days. Some would respond that they're too busy to talk about the issue.
POSTED AT 12:03 AM ET, 06/ 2/2009
Sotomayor and the Empathy Test
I love the idea that President Obama wants judges who have empathy. What a refreshing litmus test.
Of course, candidates for the bench need to be first-rate legal minds. Of course they need to be capable of working at the highest level of judicial power. But why not judges who have empathy too? Why not judges who understand the people who present themselves in court to have their disputes resolved?
Historically, the debate about Supreme Court nominees has focused on whether a judge is an activist or a constructionist. Here's a vastly oversimplified explanation: an activist tries to interpret the law in the context of current events, while a constructionist tries to interpret the law based on how it was written or intended. Democrats tend to like activists and Republicans tend to favor constructionists.
Is empathy just another code word for activist? No. Empathy is a code word for understanding. Its opposite is close-mindedness. It is sometimes equated with sympathy or kindness but it has more to do with a skill and less a feeling. Empathy is about being able to experience the thoughts and emotions of another.Continue reading this post »
POSTED AT 11:49 PM ET, 04/23/2009
Fight Malaria, Save Children
Imagine waking up tomorrow and reading that 750 children in Washington under the age of four died overnight of the same disease. Imagine waking up the next day and reading that 750 more pre-schoolers had died in Chicago, also of the same disease. The next day, imagine it is Dallas, and then Miami, and then Portland, and then Boston. Imagine this goes on for weeks, months, years, in every region of the country.
Wouldn't you do everything in your power to stop it? Wouldn't you expect your government to explore every means necessary to end it? Wouldn't you expect groups that don't always see eye-to-eye on fundamental issues to put those differences aside and work together to halt the devastating progress of the disease?
For the people of Nigeria -- who are losing 750 children every day to the bite of malaria-carrying mosquitoes -- the answers to those questions are "yes, yes, and yes."
POSTED AT 9:15 AM ET, 04/13/2009
The God of Second Chances
Last week, Christians and Jews celebrated the holy days of Passover and Easter. One of the many lessons of these celebrations is that God gives second chances, not to mention thirds, fourths, and more. We live in a time where we need to believe in second chances.
At one point or another, we all need a second chance. A relationship goes sour, a deal falls apart, a test is not met, a spouse fails you, a child breaks your heart. Disappointment can easily become despair and we wonder, "Should I try again? Will I get a second chance? Do I even want one?"
In both Torah and Gospel, people experience God's answer: "Yes! Try again. I'm still with you." Despite our failings, the covenant isn't broken. Despite our betrayal, love is not defeated. The promised land is still ours; resurrection is possible.Continue reading this post »
POSTED AT 12:19 AM ET, 03/31/2009
'Special' Athletes Aren't Funny
Last week, President Obama thrust Special Olympics athletes and their families into a national discussion about the boundaries of humor and the dignity of people with intellectual disabilities. On the Jay Leno show, the President noted that he had rolled a 129 in the White House bowling alley and added, "It was like Special Olympics or something." The president realized immediately that his comment could be hurtful, and he called me to apologize.
A week later, I'm less interested in what the President said than in how the country responded. At Special Olympics, our email and website were overwhelmed with traffic and it revealed a deep divide between those who saw nothing wrong with the remark and those who found it offensive. On the one hand were those who bristled at political correctness and want no "big brother" incursion on free speech. On the other hand are those who feel they are fighting in a civil rights movement and can't understand why so many people don't care.Continue reading this post »