WAUWATOSA — It was originally used in medical terminology, but at Wauwatosa East High School, students are spreading the message to end the word “retarded.”
In a school-wide assembly Wednesday, author and gold medal Special Olympian Cindy Bentley shared her story of how she was called the “R” word and how hurtful name calling can be.
“I was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, and I was a heroin-cocaine baby. I learn a little bit slower. It takes me a little longer, but I’m still a person. I heard the ‘R’ word so much in my life and school. It is a swear word. You label jars, not people. Ketchup and mustard are jars. We don’t need those kinds of labels. We are people,” Bentley said.
The assembly was put on by the group, Best Buddies Wisconsin, where 80 students are members. It’s part of the national “Spread the Word to End the Word” day, aimed to promote respect, acceptance and awareness of those with intellectual or other disabilities.
“Just spreading the word that people with special needs are exactly like you and I, and they should not be treated differently,” chapter president Leslie Dess said.
At Tosa East, students were asked to sign posters pledging to end the “R” word. More than 1,000 students signed the pledge, making that more than three-quarters of the student body. “It’s really great to see the student body just form together and unite for this cause,” Dess said.
More than 1,900 students in 30 other Best Buddies chapters in Wisconsin also asked classmates to take the “end the R-word” pledge.