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Local teacher campaigns against ‘R-word’

Irving Middle School’s Special Education teacher Lisa Baker is working to put an end to a commonly misused word thrown around in a derogatory manner. She calls it the “R-word.”

On Friday morning, Baker will hold an assembly at 10 o’clock at the middle school which will be open to the public in order to educate the students and community members how the word “retard(ed)” can be offensive to those who have varying degrees of disabilities.

She says a lot of this is due to ignorance.

“Students are afraid of my students with severe disabilities and students don’t know,” Baker said. “They don’t know that the R-word hurts, that it’s derogatory, that when it’s used it’s used in a joking manner or being made fun of.”

Currently, there is a national campaign that has taken place called “Spread the Word to End the Word.” The website can be viewed here:

The campaign allows people to sign a petition to make the community aware of the efforts to stop the word being misused in certain situations.

“I just hope it stops. I know it won’t be completely eliminated, but it’s always worth the try,” Baker said.

But knowing people will still misuse the word has not stopped her from trying to spread this message across the community and she hopes to eventually grow the awareness. As a matter of fact, Friday’s assembly will allow community members to sign a petition of their own acknowledging the issue.

Baker said her daughter who also has special needs is the inspiration behind her heading this cause.

When asked what term she feels should replace the word, she said it is all right to use the term in the clinical sense.

Parents of Baker’s students also agree the word can be offensive and feel it places unfair labels on their children.

“We just need to look for ways to look past that and to know that people have feelings,” Lisa McNabb said as she fought back tears. “Everybody has feelings.”

McNabb adopted 14-year old Jacob McNabb when he was 4 months old. Although he was born a healthy baby, he is a victim of shaken baby syndrome while he was still in the care of his birth parents. Doctors told McNabb they expected him to be blind for the rest of his life. However, that is proven untrue.

It was hard when he was younger to be able to communicate with him, especially when he got frustrated or when he wanted to tell us something. And we would say draw it, and he would draw it and we knew exactly what he was doing.”

Although Jacob must find the art of communication through creative forms such as drawing, McNabb said he is self-sufficient and can even cook on his own.

Jacob is not the only target of the word’s ridicule.

Nickolus Myers will turn 12 on Thursday. This is a big deal for the Myer family because when he turned 3, doctors did not expect him to live past the age of 10. However, he proved them wrong.

Although Nick was born a healthy baby, he started showing signs of a developing genetic disease called leukodrystophy. This means the white blood cells in his brain have been gradually decreasing, which has put him in a wheelchair.

Nickolus said the word is offensive to him and would like people to understand how smart and kind he is. He said he has a lot to offer the world.

He also says the first thing he would like to do if he were to ever walk again, is to be able to run in the hallway at school.

So while Baker continues to find ways of spreading the word about remembering to be more sensitive about the words we use, in the meantime, we can all keep in mind the power one word can have on a community.

Follow Kaitlin on Twitter: @KaitlinLoukides

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