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In the words of a 13-year-old boy

Posted Feb 11 2010 12:00am

This is a speech Kevin, our oldest son, wrote, and which he will be giving in front of the student body and their families at his school in a couple of weeks.

I just want to note that this is Kevin's cause, and one he is pretty passionate about. We, his parents, have never pushed him to take on this cause. He loves his brother so much, and takes his responsibility as an advocate very seriously.

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I know that history can sometimes be boring, but just for a second let’s think back to the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln was still America’s president. He made a speech called The Gettysburg Address. In his speech, Lincoln said that all men are created equal. Now let’s fast-forward in time to August 28, 1963. On that day Martin Luther King, Jr. made his “I have a dream” speech. He also said that all people should be equal. I strongly agree with this, and I’m sure many of you think you agree, too.

Now today, here in 2010, I’m making my own speech.

How many of you here discriminate against people of a different race than your own? How many of you discriminate against those of another religion? Probably not many of you. But I’m not done yet.

How many of you discriminate against . . . my baby brother, or people like him? I doubt that any of you think you do. But let’s think about this. I’m sure many of you here have used a single word that hurts like a missile. That word is “retard.” I could ask you all if you know what “retarded” actually means, but I doubt many of you do. Many people use it to describe something they think is stupid, annoying, ridiculous, or useless. It actually refers to someone with an intellectual disability, like my baby brother, who has Down syndrome. When you say “retard” or call something “retarded,” it shows ignorance and insensitivity. It sounds uneducated. Some people think it’s okay to use as a casual insult because they aren’t specifically referring to the intellectually disabled. This is not true; the word “retard” is inappropriate and unnecessary and unacceptable. It’s offensive and hurtful to my brother, my family, and all other people with disabilities and their families.

It is true that doctors once used the words “mentally retarded” as the official term describing the intellectually disabled. But the word has evolved into a hurtful, offensive insult. There is absolutely no reason why the intellectually disabled should be compared to something YOU believe is useless or stupid. It’s like saying, “You’re stupid, and these disabled people are stupid, so I’m gonna insult them and you by saying you’re as dumb as them!”

My baby brother is sitting on the floor watching me closely as I write this speech, a smile on his face. Is it my brother’s fault that he was born with an extra chromosome, that he has Down Syndrome? No. And yet, he will deal with discrimination for his entire life, unless we do something to change that. A very simple thing: stop using the words “retard” and “retarded.” Just remove those words from your vocabulary.

Maybe some of you know somebody with an intellectual disability, and you understand.

Some of you will walk away when I am done, laughing, and saying, “That speech was retarded!

Some of you will agree with what I’ve said, but continue using the words and being hurtful anyway.

But some of you will truly understand. You will educate other people to know that everyone, regardless of race, religion, or intellectual ability, deserves to be treated with equal kindness, respect, and dignity. You will truly understand what it means to be equal.

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