They Said The “R Word”
by Tony Tone
August 23, 2019

I’m about as laid back of a person as they come. My mild-mannered nature rarely changes, and that’s the way I like to carry myself. Life is far too short for me to walk around being angry. That being said, there are a few exceptions.

Last week, I was with my family in a public place when I heard a group of kids using the “R Word.” At first, I thought maybe I had misheard them, but it happened a second time followed by laughter.

I immediately said to the group, “hey guys, can you not use that word? It’s not appropriate, and there are several special needs people not too far away that don’t need to hear that.” They attempted to brush me off and say it wasn’t a big deal, but I assured them it indeed is a big deal and incredibly insensitive.

My cousin Michelle Gamboney is in her mid-forties and was the first person I knew with special needs. Michelle was never treated differently, and her parents (my late Aunt Maureen and Uncle Bob) wanted her to always feel included and able to live a full life. The one thing my dear Aunt Maureen instilled in all of us was to not sit idly by as people use the “R Word” or bully special needs children and adults. Michelle is my mom’s goddaughter and she’s been part of my life for all these years. I’m thirty-five years old, and throughout the course of my life, I’ve stood up for special needs people and have tried to educate those who need it.

Getting back to my conversation with the group of young people, I asked them if they knew anyone personally who has special needs.

One of them spoke up, “yes, a kid at school.”

I asked how he thought it would make that student feel knowing they were laughing and using the “R Word” with a group of special needs people nearby. “Probably bad,” was the reply, and he was right, of course.

I told them that even if they didn’t personally know someone with special needs, they can at least understand how using a word like that would be offensive and certainly not okay in a public place. We’re all different in our own ways. Some of us need more help than others, but we are all deserving of respect.

Muscatine County as a whole does a great job providing opportunities for those with special needs. From Special Olympics Muscatine to Crossroads and various companies that offer employment opportunities, a strong effort is being put forth to improve the quality of life of those who need assistance.

I’m not sharing this recent encounter to be praised. I did the right thing and will continue to do so. If anything, I hope you’ll do the same should you find yourself in a similar situation. Let your voice be heard for those who cannot speak for themselves.

To those that have dedicated their lives to helping those with special needs, thank you. This includes people like my wife, Kasey, who works full-time with her brother, Nolan. I have the utmost respect for all of you and you need to understand the powerful impact you’re having on these individuals.

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