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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Observer

Spread the Word to End the Word'

A few years ago, I had a conversation with my brother that changed my life. I was sharing a story about an autistic boy, Liam, with whom I had spent time as a camp counselor for people with special needs. My brother commented that Liam was a boy with autism rather than an autistic boy. Liam was a person first; autism should be used to describe, not to define. Before this, altering labels seemed like trivial semantics.
That night, however, I realized that language matters.  While words inform and share, they serve another function. Whether consciously or subconsciously, our words define and limit our outlook on the world, our opinion of others and our understanding of how others should be treated. By defining Liam as an autistic boy rather than a boy with autism, I was also confirming my view that Liam was somehow different from me and somehow separate from me.
Wednesday, March 6, was the fifth annual Spread the Word to End the Word Day, a campaign devoted to raising awareness about the dehumanizing effects of words such as retard and retarded. As stated by Special Olympics, these derogatory slurs promote "painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities being less valued members of humanity." I believe the elimination of hurtful words such as retard and retarded will help fade the differences that seem to set people with physical and intellectual disabilities apart and allow humanity to emerge as the defining characteristic of us all.
I am not asking for donations of time or Domer Dollars. Rather, I ask my classmates to recognize that words dictate how we view and understand others in our community and consequently influence our actions. Whether you joined the myriad of people around the world by signing the pledge on March 6 to uphold the dignity of all people, I encourage you, as a member of Notre Dame community, to do even more. I urge you to practice what you preach by extending the spirit of inclusion and love that is intrinsic to the Notre Dame family to everyone, regardless of ability.

Rachael Palumbo
Pangborn Hall