DES MOINES, Iowa – Charity Hodson says she still remembers being bullied in high school for her intellectual disability. The pain it caused her to hear the R-word thrown her way, to be left as the last choice for teams during gym class, and to be looked at as a burden, rather than a person, is what she says inspires her to advocate for others like her today.
“They made fun, called me a whole bunch of different names,” she said. “And I know how that made me feel, so I know how everyone else feels when they’re called names like that.”
Hodson is now a very active member of Special Olympics Iowa; she competes in three events (track & field, bowling, and softball) and serves as a global messenger for the group. And Tuesday, she joined her fellow athletes and advocates at the Iowa State Capitol to ask lawmakers – and anyone who walked by – to support an effort to end use of the R-word in society.
“Special Olympics Iowa is a foundational process based on athletic endeavors, but it goes well beyond that,” said Gary Harms, CEO and President of the organization. “Our athletes are public speakers, they’re employed in our societies, and really, it’s all about inclusion. It’s all about just being people.”
And just being people requires society to end usage of an archaic term that only segregates the disabled community and makes them feel subordinate to humanity, he says. The group’s effort is part of a national campaign by the Special Olympics. “Spread the Word to End the Word” now has an online petition with over half a million signatures, and organizers in Iowa hope to boost that number even more Tuesday.
“Our organization is about enabling confidence in our athletes,” Harms said. “This word does the exact opposite.”
In addition to a poster for lawmakers and the public to sign, the group will also read aloud a proclamation – signed by Governor Terry Branstad – in support of the initiative to end the R-word in the afternoon. For Hodson, the effects the R-word had on her at a younger age caused her to feel like she couldn’t accomplish her goals. Through the Special Olympics, she says she’s been given the confidence to do things she never thought possible, like living independently.
“They’re going to cheer you on, and tell you, ‘You can do it,'” she said. “And that really makes you feel good, to be told you can do it from people you do know, and people you don’t know, too.”