Recently, I read a letter addressed to Ann Coulter regarding her comment, using the word retard, during the presidential debate. If you haven’t read it, read it. Typically I don’t pay attention to things like this, but this one really hit me. The word retard, which I will refer to from here on out as the “R” word, gets a lot of publicity. I’ve heard presentation after presentation on why we shouldn’t use the R word, I’ve heard people talk about how damaging it is, and I’ve received promise petitions to sign; but the attention paid to it was something I never truly understood. I have two cousins who, by definition standard, are considered special needs…or what many refer to as retarded. It’s not something that is thought about, though. Instead, it’s something that they joke about…something they were taught to joke about. Because of this, and my complete ignorance before this family, I never connected the word to someone of low intelligence or to being slow. Instead, to me, it was just something that was not fair or annoying. It wasn’t until last year that I truly understood the damage this one word could cause. I met, and was given the opportunity to get to know, a young man who, by definition standard, is considered special needs. Like my cousins, this young man is such a joy. He is talented, smart, kind, funny, joyful, and so full of personality. In conversation, he is exciting. He can spit out facts quicker than I can count to ten, and he can make you laugh in an instant. He’s the perfect blend of tender and tough. Just as my cousins do, he manages to maintain these traits while battling great adversities. Because of the R word, this young man struggles and it breaks my heart. So many times I wish that I could take his troubles away, make his life easier, but I can’t. Instead, he is left to survive in this world where so many people are insensitive to the impact of a single word. His family is made to watch their son/brother/nephew/grandson suffer, and they struggle. Though not alone, his struggle is sometimes overwhelming. He gets frustrated and loses sight of the amazing, wonderful, sweet young man he really is. All because of a label that we are often insensitive to, a word that is used loosely, a judgement of a definition. I loved what Will Stephens said, “I should not be used as a symbol for dumb and shallow. If they wanted to use me as a symbol, use me as a symbol for someone who fights adversity.” Just because we don’t always equate the R word to special needs, doesn’t mean that it’s not interpreted that way. I am so glad that I have been given the opportunity to meet this young man and that I have been blessed with two beautiful cousins with special needs. They have blessed my life in ways they will never know. They have given me the opportunity to see life the way they do. They have taught me that there is more to life than the big, worldly things. But mostly, they have opened my eyes to understanding that there is no such thing as disability or special needs. We are all human, uniquely and beautifully created with the opportunity to contribute something special to this world.