By Gretchen Dann
Today in Absecon, eighth-grade students at Emma C. Attales Middle School received a real-life lesson on the ‘r-word’ from clients and staff of The Arc. Shereen MacDonald, Sam Bonavita, Ellen Moskowitz and John Franco visited students as part of a disability program coordinated by teacher Barbara Horner. Shereen MacDonald, a supportive living coordinator for The Arc who runs the agency’s Self Advocacy club, said “It was interesting to hear how they use the word ‘retarded’. They used it to describe a phone or a TV when it doesn’t work right. We were able to help them understand the history of the ‘r-word’ and how people with developmental disabilities are affected by the word’s casual use. ” Students were fascinated to learn that we had institutions still in New Jersey. Many were also surprised to learn that The Arc has group homes in their neighborhoods, which is actually a very good thing.
Ellen Moskowitz and John Franco are Arc service recipients and members of the statewide Self Advocacy group. Students had the opportunity to ask them questions about their disabilities and further learn about the importance of not using the R-word. When a teacher from the middle school asked Ellen what people should do when they pass someone with a developmental disability out in public, Ellen replied, “Don’t whisper to your friends about me. Ask me about my disability and I’ll be happy tell you.” This is an important lesson to teach children, as the R-word often finds its way into their daily vocabulary. Based on the conversation and reactions from students, The Arc of Atlantic County’s visit seems to have made a lasting impression!
Ellen, John, and the rest of The Arc self-advocates would love the opportunity to speak at other schools and community groups. If you are interested in having The Arc come visit you, contact Shereen MacDonald at (609) 485-0800 x169.
Below is a link to a video made by The Arc of New Jersey about how the use of the R-word makes people with disabilities feel.