Freedom of Being Respected (by Emily Shook)


My name is Emily Shook, I am part time student at pcc and recently began doing volunteer work because of this class. I began helping two kids with down syndrome and started doing more research to create a better foundation on beliefs I have had since as long as I can remember. The question I will be asking is- “Is asking someone to not use the word(s) retard(ed) talking away their freedom of speech?” The Answer may seem simple, but yet I hear this excuse time and time again when people use the R-word. I have never been a fan of the R-Word. In fact, about four years ago I pledged to never say it again. My overall goal for this blog is to educate people, and help those with intellectual disabilities gain the respect they deserve.

The Research “What Does Free Speech Mean?” USCOURTSGOV RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.  This is a link to the US court government page that explains what is and isn’t freedom of speech. This is important to my paper because it lays down the line of what it is and isn’t with no questions asks. This is also the most reliable source to find giving my post and thesis for this assignment more credibility. “Americapedia – Respect | Bill of Rights Institute.” Bill of Rights Institute Americapedia Respect Bill of Rights Institute Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.  I believe this website to be a good resource because they are a non profit organization that puts their time and effort into helping students and teachers find more information and resources on US history. I found this site interesting because it actually broke down how along with our right of freedom of speech we need to have moderation, respect, and responsibility. I chose to include respect because I want this to be one of my main points in this project. It all comes down to respecting our fellow man. “Special Olympics: Why Pledge.” Special Olympics: Why Pledge. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. This Website is very important because it explains why people should pledge to help end the word. This has been a go to website for me in my theme because it is a very reliable source, considering it is posted/ran by the special olympics. It is also easy for everyone to understand, and it goes in depth about different opinions. Stephens, John. “An Open Letter to Ann Coulter.” The World of Special Olympics. N.p., 23 Oct. 2012. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.  Although I used this example in my research paper as well, I find it to be a good enough resource and example to use twice. In this open letter to Ann Coulter, a very well known writer and political women, a man with Down Syndrome names John Stephens calls her out for using the R-word. He does it with grace, love, and care, and sets a wonderful example for us all. I think by using this open letter as an example I can both show one, that people with down syndrome are capable of doing things like this, and two, better explain my points by backing it up with a very reliable source. . How to. N.p.: Manitoba Teachers’ Society, 1983. Web. This Is a great resource because it is a how to guide on responding to people who use the R-Word. It explains different situations and why peoples excuses are invalid.

The Public Writing ( )
An open Letter to the world:

Dear Reader,
How many times have you been walking down the street when you hear someone say something that just gives you that bad gut wrenching feeling? A slow stab to the stomach with a dull rusty butter knife. That feeling where your stomach drops to your feet and your heart skips to your throat. Try to remember the first time a stranger, a loved one, a co-worker, a peer, made you feel worthless. Think of the first time a kid pushed you down into a muddy puddle when you were in grade one. What were those people doing to you? Were they helping you? Giving you friendly life advice? No. To put it sweetly, they were disrespecting you.
Disrespect comes in many different forms. It comes in shapes like, someone over stepping your authority, physical harm, spreading rumors, harassment, sometimes even just using a single word. Words are tricky. When someone uses a word you don’t like or a word that gives you that dull butterknife in your side feeling, it can be hard to find an appropriate way to call them out. However just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean you should ignore it. There are millions of people in this world who have to deal with this disrespect everyday all because of one word. That word being Retard(ed.) Retard is a word that branches from “Mental Retardation.” Years ago this was a medical term meaning “Slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic Progress” The Penguin Dictionary. However back in 2010 President Barack Obama signed a law known as “Rosas Law.” This law requires all federal health, education, and labor policies to use the terms “Intellectual disability” and “Individual with an intellectual disability.” This was changed due to the fact that society took this word and changed it into a slang word meaning lame, foolish, or poor in taste. Sadly, many people are unaware of this change and still believe that it is a medical term. This is one of the more popular excuses for using it, however when that’s their excuse generally they aren’t trying to be insulting and you can easily explain to them that the words have changed and that the word is very derogatory now.
You see, the word really wasn’t always so insulting, but ever since society changed it, people with intellectual disabilities are belittled everyday. Making them feel like they are worthless. It doesn’t just affect people with the disability, but also their families and friends. Using the R-Word is takes away people’s individuality. It turns a person who has love in their heart, and ambitions in their soul, into something as little as “silly” or “dumb.” It changes a complex person with thoughts and feelings into one single word.
One of the other most popular excuses for using this word is Freedom Of speech. Freedom of Speech is a wonderful thing. It allows us to express ourselves and our opinions generally in whatever way we want. It even gives us the right to burn our own countries flag. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should do it just because you can. And that right there is my main point. So many peoples excuses for using this word is simply because they can. People don’t like hearing that they shouldn’t do something, it makes us as humans feel uncomfortable. So, naturally, we try to think of the first excuse we can. Our freedom, being the perfect excuse. So, legally yes, when I ask a person to not use the R-word because it is disrespectful and leaves my ears ringing, they have the right to say “No, it’s my right, I can use whatever words I want.” But, why would someone want to use a word that makes so many people feel worthless? We can never be sure who is over hearing out conversations. Trying to block out the constant reminders that society looks at them almost as less than human.
If ever you are in a situation where someone uses this word, or you find yourself letting it slip out, look around you, think of who they/you could be hurting. It may seem like just a word to some, but for others it is a hold back, a road block, a punch in the stomach. It’s the reason many feel worthless, and discriminated. No one should have so much pride that they feel their right to say anything means they should. Not when it hurts someone.They may think that it is different then screaming “FIRE” in a crowded place, but using this word sets fire in the souls of many, and a heartache that will last until this word ends. So please, next time you hear a person let this word slip, and uses the excuse “It’s my Freedom of Speech” educate them. Remind them who they could be hurting, and lets all Spread the Word to End the Word.



  1. Tanner Padbuy


    Emily, just because this is a popular topic doesn’t mean it is any less important. You’ve done a great job at readdressing the topic of ending the R-word and put your own voice in it. Your voice definitely shows. I can tell that as you were writing this you had a tiny little bit of smoke coming out your ears, and you know what, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for this topic. You do a good job of making the reader aware of your feelings towards the situation without directing those feelings at the reader and attacking them.

    The writing gets a little repetitive, but it kind of has to. It’s not a super broad topic, but it is a big one. You do well at re hashing your points without being boring, and using different examples every time. I also liked you comparison to shouting FIRE in a crowded place. GOOD JOB!

  2. Danielle Hill


    I really enjoyed reading your letter on such a sad topic that we heard too often. Working in healthcare this word carries such a harsh stigma that when I hear someone blurt it out, intentional or not, it lights a fire in my eyes. So thank-you for bringing light to this topic.

    As a reader I am clearly able to understand where your point stands and how you feel about the topic. I really like when you used the statement, “You see, the word really wasn’t always so insulting, but ever since society changed it, people with intellectual disabilities are belittled everyday.” It is so true and so sad. Freedom of speech is something as an American that we can be thankful for, but we all need to do a better job making sure the level of respect is present in regards to everyone. Good job, Emily! 🙂


  3. Tina Jones

    Hi Emily!

    I had the pleasure of reading your last paper, so I was excited to get to review you again! You’ve really done a lot of research on the subject and it’s obvious that your heart is in it. As a mom I know how traumatizing bullying can be, and harmful words can be just as painful as a punch. Raising awareness of this fact on behalf of those that may not be able to defend themselves is a noble cause.

    I appreciate you pointing out the evolution of the “R” word into something derogatory. That seems to be one of the defenses people use when called out on using this word, that it’s a “medical term” or the like. The meaning of words change and the fact of the matter is, “retard” is NEVER okay to say.

    I would just like to briefly mention that the formatting of your open letter tripped me up a couple of times. It read like a long paragraph and I ended up having to reread a sentence or two. Nothing too bad and it didn’t lose me. I remained completely engaged and appreciated the format. An open letter seems to be the perfect way to get this message out. Nicely done!

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