Use of “R word” discouraged as part of Luncheon with the Mayors


By Ron Giofu


Community Living Essex County (CLEC) held its eighth annual Luncheon with the Mayors last week where those in attendance were asked to discourage use of “the R word.” Mayors, council members and community leaders from across Essex County gathered together last Wednesday afternoon at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Essex where, as part of an afternoon event, they were encouraged not to use the “R word” anymore.

Eva Penner, James Szpak and Tammy Hillman of New Day, a self-advocacy group supported through CLEC, each gave presentations on eliminating the “R word” from conversation.

Luncheon with MayorsThe “R word” – which is short for “retarded” and variations of that word – is hurtful to people with a disability, said Penner, and make them feel excluded. “When we were called this, it makes us feel bad,” she said. “ People are being disrespectful.”

Yellow wristbands encouraging people to stop using the “R word” were distributed to the crowd.

Penner added self-advocates with CLEC have made presentation to community groups within Essex County and other places in Ontario. “We are very proud of our campaign that has started to spread,” said Penner.

Hillman stated she went out to lunch with two of her nieces and had to endure them using the “R word” when referencing other people. She said it was hurtful but once her nieces were advised on how damaging the word can be, it hasn’t been heard since. “There is no reason to use the word ‘retarded’,” said Hillman.

“Language does affect attitudes and attitudes impact actions,” stated Tony DeSantis, manager of community relations and resource development.

Groups like Ensemble, which is supported by CLEC, also received exposure during the luncheon. Ensemble is an organization that supports families of people with a disability. “Ensemble’s mission is to help families feel less isolated and alone,” she said. DiCarlo said families of people with a disability can stay away from others and withdraw from friends and family. In her case, “we fell into a deep pit of despair.” A group like Ensemble, with parents who know what others in their situations are going through, “can feel like a lifeline when you feel you are drowning.” The group is trying to branch out and make new connections adding that CLEC’s current attempt at getting accreditation “brings peace of mind” as a parent.

DeSantis said the Luncheon with the Mayors allows politicians and leaders from the seven county municipalities to get an update on the activities and actions of Community Living Essex County.

“Our intent is very simple – to invite in community leaders to hear what we are doing in your communities,” DeSantis told the crowd. Reaching out into the community is vital, added CLEC board president Diane Bourbeau. She said events like Luncheon with the Mayors “allows us to reach out to communities, network and tell our story. “We know how important it is to reach out to our communities.”

Executive director Nancy Wallace-Gero said Luncheon with the Mayors has grown in the eight years it has been held with it evolving into a happening where “people tell us what is important to them.” Wallace-Gero thanked the mayors, council members and other municipal leaders who took the time from their day to support the event. “We really are blessed in Essex County with some of the greatest leaders in Ontario,” she said.

CLEC supports about 650 people with disabilities across Essex County. In Amherstburg, CLEC operates Channel Resource Centre on Bathurst St.

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