The Weight of Our Words: Self-Advocate Speaks Out Against the R-word

The use of the R-word may seem harmless enough -- until real people get hurt. That one simple word affects people deeply. It hurts people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, it hurts their families and it hurts their friends.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

It's a sad reality that cyberbullies and trolls sit behind the anonymity of computer screens and mobile devices and effortlessly inflict pain that can last a lifetime. It's easy to do and can cause such deep suffering.

Recently, the International Down Syndrome Coalition posted a photo on our Facebook page as part of our "I CAN" photo campaign. The "I CAN" photo campaign features the many accomplishments of people with Down syndrome and celebrates life's achievements - from the smallest of goals to the largest of accomplishments - while showing the world what people with Down syndrome CAN do.

This photo has been very well received and has so far received more than 1,600 "likes", 119 "shares" and more than 30 comments.
But as we all know, one rotten apple spoils the whole bunch, and one hurtful comment can carry more weight than 30 positive comments.

One person commented, "Which one is the retard?"

Casey responds:

As parents, we worry about our children. We commit to our responsibilities those building blocks to achieve the future we envision for our children. Throughout the day, we wonder, "How's my child doing" and "I hope they're making friends" to "I want my child to be safe". It is a fact of being a parent. These same thoughts apply when children go online today. We want to keep them safe.

A few weeks ago a picture of mine was posted by my good friends at the IDSC. In it you'll see my son and me. It was part of their "I Can" Campaign. Candidly and openly I can say this even more now, "I was born with mosaic Down syndrome and I am also that boy's dad". The day after this picture posted, a comment was directed at the both of us. It read, "Which one is the retard?" That was what I was dreading. That R Word. How it must've resonated within my own parents at times when worrying about me as a boy walking out into the world. I've always had a personal ambition that: I Always Define Me. I do my best to help stop the use of that R word. This has been a part of my charge and I shall continue on with it.

Yet this was also directed at my son. Which acknowledges it isn't only said to those with intellectual disabilities. I will say, being born with an intellectual disability, I've heard this word, the R word, too many times to count. The biggest reason it made me a bit more frustrated in this situation is that it was directed at my son, as well. I know how to turn the emotion and my impulse control off to such words and instigators. However, this was my son and he's just a boy, not even 10 yet, and that word would affect him in a big way and was unacceptable. Period!

There's always that one that likes to be That Person. The one to drop the R word. Cyberbullying, someone intentionally signing on to the internet to insult another person, is an odd thing. I don't get it.

The weight of those words within those very little motions becomes like air. Weightless. Coming through the internet as simple words on a screen - nothing more.

Our picture reads, "My greatest achievement is being his dad". You could say my son helped me embrace what I was so fearful of then. Being his dad is by far one of my favorite things to be. I thank God every chance I get for molding me into the man I am today.

Now 35 years later, this picture has come full circle. We are all parents that love and care for our children and want to help educate and raise awareness for our own and those with that 21st chromosome and intellectual disabilities alike. This is also for the generations to come.

I understand the frustration and can see clearly how much the R words hurts all that it's being directed at.


The use of the R-word may seem harmless enough -- until real people get hurt. That one simple word affects people deeply. It hurts people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, it hurts their families and it hurts their friends.

This comment, likely intended as a "harmless joke," has dehumanizing and hurtful effects. The use of that word perpetuates the stigma and negative stereotypes faced by individuals with intellectual disabilities.

The effects of bullying and pejorative words can be severe and long-term for victims -- even the faceless victims on the other side of a computer screen.

Whether bullying or hate speech take place in person or online, the emotional and psychological effects of that bullying are just as hurtful and destructive.

Let's take a stand together. Let's end the R-word! Let's stand up and speak out against bullying, cyberbullying, trolls and hate speech.

Want to learn more? Check out


Casey Morton is an IDSC self-advocate with mosaic Down syndrome and sits on the IDSC Advisory Panel. Beth Sullivan is Chairperson of the IDSC and Stephanie Sumulong is on the IDSC Board of Directors and blogs at

Popular in the Community


What's Hot