Note: I see from my stats that this post is being hit a lot due to Facebookers. Thanks for whomever is promoting my work. Just a note, however, that the postcard on the Smitherman FordonFord site has been removed. They have acted. Ford, however, still has not apologized publicly for his use of the word. Read on to see what the fuss has been about.
Warning: This post will be using a quote that includes the 'r' word. It is done only for the purposes of information and without the intent of promulgating the use of the word.
Toronto is less safe for people with intellectual disabilities now that people with disabilities are being defamed as part of the mayoralty campaign. I was innocently watching the news when a poster filled the screen. The poster had a picture of candidate Rob Ford beside a word bubble which said: You’d have to be retarded if you can’t see frickin’ water in front of you. I was brought up short. My heart started to pound and my teeth clenched. The 'R' word has a profound and negative impact on me emotionally.
I've always hated that word, or rather, the use of that word in hateful ways for the purpose of devaluing others. It's a word that is an attack on who people with intellectual disabilities are as individuals and an attack on the minority constituency to which they belong. It's a word that is outrageously harmful and it is used, no matter what people say, with full knowledge and intent. That the word hurts others has also been clearly stated by people with intellectual disabilities themselves, by their families and by the organizations that provide them support. This is not news.
At Vita Community Living Services, we were issued a challenge by our self advocate group. We were asked what we were going to do to make the community safer, to make the community a place where they could go without fear of hearing the 'r' word tossed about. We responded by creating a campaign wherein we distributed the words hit cards to all our members and all our staff, eventually we distributed them to self advocate groups and organizations around the world. We wanted to actively engage those who used the word. Further we developed a version of the card for Gay Pride where we marched for the first time. Our goal was both to confront those who use the word as well as to begin to build unity with other groups who have experienced negative taunts out of the mouths of bigots.
Then comes the campaign for the mayor's seat and because we live in modern times the discussion and debate has become nasty. The George Smitherman camp has decided to use words out of the mouth of candidate Rob Ford to bring him down. As such they created a website with electronic postcards that contain various quotes from the public record said by Rob Ford on various issues. One of the quotes uses the word 'retarded' in reference to signage. This campaign was everywhere. I saw it in the newspapers, I saw it on television, I easily found it on the web. I actually sent the electronic postcard to Manuela, Vita's Executive Director, both so she could see it as well as to find out how easy it is to simply forward this kind of hateful stuff onwards - it's easy.
I was angered.
At Rob Ford for using the word in this manner.
At George Smitherman for choosing this quote to highlight and as a result making the 'r' word so visible, so public, so accessible.
I was angered.
By the media for not bringing a disability perspective to the story. I can't imagine the media, had another word been used to disparage another minority, not interviewing or speaking to spokespeople wounded or damaged by that word.
I think Ford and Smitherman and even the Toronto media believe that we are a passive minority that might be offended but that will be silent. I think that all of us who have justifiable outrage at Ford's use of the word and Smitherman's promulgation of the word will simply shake our heads and go quietly away.
No more silence.
I immediately wrote both Ford and Smitherman. I demanded that Ford apologize for his use of the word and that he 'take the pledge' not to use the word again in that manner. I demanded that Smitherman take that electronic postcard off the site, apologize for choosing that quote and 'take the pledge'. I, of course, have heard nothing back from either side.
Here's where you come into the picture. I have a large daily readership. Many of you are faithful commenters. I would like you to take just five minutes from your day and contact both Ford and Smitherman and if you have time also a note to City Television which has a popular news programme here in Toronto. I'd also ask that you leave a comment here in the comment section to let me know that you've done this. It's a lot to ask. But we have to start using the muscle of our numbers and the motivation of our anger to make our voices heard. Don't worry if you are from outside of Toronto or outside of Canada, the international movement against the 'r word' needs to been seen, felt and most importantly heard. I have this wonderful image of those of you who live in parts of the world that are reading this just after publishing at midnight here in Toronto immediately writing letters, I imagine the Ford and Smitherman people openning their emails in the morning to discover international outrage. I imagine and I hope.
For those of you who have a personal blog, disability themed or not, who are looking for something to blog about, please join in and maybe we can blogswarm this topic. It's inappropriate for public figures to speak disparagingly of any member of the disability community. If you do blog about this, put the link in the comments so we can all visit and get a sense of the length and breadth of our community.
Here's how you get in touch:
Rob Ford who used the word:
245 Dixon Road
The George Smitherman Campaign who is distributing the quote containing the word:
70 The Esplanade, Suite 201
To a media outlet in Toronto:
The world needs to be made safe for all - and we are finally realizing that we are part of 'all'.
Thanks 'y'all' for reading, for writing, for protesting, for expressing outrage.