Ann Smith and her family have had a long and hard fight against the "r-word," and they hope it will come to an end this year.
Smith's 32-year-old son, Daniel, has autism and Tourette syndrome. The Milton resident is a strong advocate against the casual use of the term "retard" in common culture.
"As a parent, it hurts," Smith said. "It is time to correct this belittling term... Hearing people make references to the 'short bus' as the 'retard bus' cuts like a knife in your heart."
Smith is the executive director of the Santa Rosa chapter of Arc Florida, a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for persons with developmental disabilities.
Arc Florida is a supporter of a proposed bill that would substitute the term "mental retardation" in state law for "intellectual disability." Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, introduced Senate Bill 142 on Dec. 21 and Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, introduced House Bill 1119 on Feb. 28 - both of which propose the change. SB 142 is currently in the Criminal Justice Committee.
"The term retardation provides a ‘legal leg’ for the bullies of the world to hide behind when they use the term," Smith said.
The fight against the R-word is not one Smith has been doing on her own. Three years ago her daughter, Katie, began a campaign at Milton High School called Spread the Word to End the Word…the R Word.
"Katie was deeply disturbed about the usage of the term 'retard' and other derogatory terms that were literally thrown around at school and nobody every stopped to think about why people used this term," Smith said. "She got fed up. She felt that using the r-word was a form of bullying."
More than 400 students, faculty and community members signed a pledge to never use the R-word again. Katie has campaigned all over Florida at state and national conferences, churches and schools on the subject. She is currently a freshman at the University of Alabama.
Katie will be speaking at a local event Arc Santa Rosa is hosting called "End the R-Word in Florida." It will be held at noon on March 28 at Hawkins Park on Munson Highway, just past 5550 Bubba Lane, in Milton.
Smith said she wants to see change soon.
"We want it passed this year," she said. "It has been brought up through legislation for the last three years and has not been passed. It is a revenue neutral bill. Somehow it gets put on the back burner. This year The Arc of Florida has taken the issue on and I am so proud of them."
Change is hard to teach
Arc Santa Rosa started as the Association for Retarded Children in the early 1960s. In 1976, as the children grew up, the name was changed to The Association for Retarded Citizens.
But the word "retarded" is not used with Arc anymore.
By 1978, the National Arc and state and local chapters changed their name to The Arc with no acronym associated.
"However, change is hard and hard to teach," Smith said.
The national chapter even implemented a new logo in 2010 to help reinforce that it no longer stands for any acronym.
If you go
What: "End the R-Word in Florida."
When: 12 p.m. March 28
Where: Hawkins Park on Munson Highway, just past 5550 Bubba Lane, in Milton.