“There goes the retard rocket!” a rowdy group of middle school students shouted in reference to the bus in front of theirs.
Sierra was ecstatically waiting to see her sister, an intellectually disabled middle-schooler who was riding the “retard rocket.”
But to hear her peers refer to her own sister’s disability in such a derogatory way marred Sierra’s rush of excitement. Though she had been looking forward to telling her sister about an unexpected A on her math test, that excitement dissipated with the roaring laughter of her peers.
Sierra’s experience sheds light on how powerful language can be and how important it is to start a conversation on disability rights on campus, said junior Anna Ollinger in recounting her best friend’s story.
Ollinger, president of Best Buddies , a nonprofit organization that provides companions for students with disabilities, is doing just that in helping launch the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign this week at UNC. It is part of a nationwide effort to end verbal usage of “retarded,” the r-word.
“People are just becoming more conscientiousness of our language and how that affects our perspectives,” Ollinger said. “For a long time, people have been using the r-word in a derogatory manner, and the campaign was started to raise awareness on that.”
Throughout the week Best Buddies members, with the help of other on-campus organizations, will stand in the Pit, handing out free T-shirts, buttons and stickers.
They plan to do a Facebook “I Pledge” campaign in which students can take pictures with messages explaining why they’re choosing to stop saying the word. Next week R.J. Mitte , an actor in the TV series Breaking Bad who has cerebral palsy , will speak on campus about disability rights.