Students for Special Needs spreads awareness

Kim Hiltabidle

The Students for Special Needs club hosted an event Tuesday at the Memorial Union in conjunction with March being the month of “Spread the Word to End the Word.”

The theme of the event was “What Does the ‘R’ Word Mean to Me?”

In the 1960s, the term mental retardation or “MR” began being used with a negative connotation and as an insult to those with disabilities.

The Special Olympics began a campaign in 2004 to stop the use of the R-word, and in 2010, President Obama signed legislation to replace the term “MR” with the words Intellectual Disability or “IR.”

Spreading the awareness and advocating for those with disabilities, along with encouraging the end of the R-word, were key focuses of the event. Each of the five guest speakers offered a different perspective to what the “R” word means to them and how it affects those with or without disabilities.

The first speaker, Audra Kincart, senior in journalism and mass communication, shared her experience of witnessing someone being looked down upon in a checkout lane at a grocery store because of his disability.

Marianne Russell, advocate for people with disabilities from Ames, spoke about her personal experiences with bullying because of disabilities and how she overcame the negativity.

“People with disabilities are really cool because they are unique,” Russell said. “We are who we are and I like it that way.”

Other speakers included two Special Olympic athletes and Mary-Kate Dorrlacombe, a global messenger for the Special Olympics from West Des Moines.

“When I was first diagnosed with autism, I felt the world I knew was slowly collapsing around me,” Dorrlacombe said. “I felt as if I was being labeled.”

Dorrlacombe spoke about how using the R-word as a label for those with disabilities needs to stop and that the word needs to be completely removed, including from the dictionary.

Addison Bidwell, president of Students for Special Needs and junior in agronomy, and club secretary Alyssa Dragin, sophomore in event management, led the event.

“I hope that this event inspired some sort of change in people’s hearts and that they quit using that word,” Bidwell said when asked about what she hoped people would take away from the event.

Draggin is also passionate about the inclusion and equal treatment of everyone regardless of disabilities and encourages the end of the R-word.

“I really think that everyone should be treated equal and have equal opportunity,” Draggin said. “I advocate because I like to make others feel like they have a place and to make them feel welcome.”