My name is Katie Pullano! I’m a 15 year old from Bedford, Texas. I don’t have an intellectual disability. I don’t have a family member with an intellectual disability. But I do have a best friend with Down syndrome. Several years ago, I met Kalli and Colby, at a Special Olympics swimming event while volunteering as a unified athlete with my older brother. Little did I know those two athletes would change my life forever.
A year went by and my hangout sessions with Colby and Kalli became more frequent. As I entered into the 7th grade at my local junior high, I had already learned one very important lesson; the word “retarded” was not only hurtful but also demeaning and derogatory. My feelings were very hurt in the first couple of months at my new school when I heard kids saying things such as “Bro, quit acting so retarded” and “You look retarded.”
My efforts to correct these students were, at first, minimal. I understood that the word was harmful, but I never offered a solution. Finally, I snapped when my math teacher used the r-word. After a couple of days, embarrassment in front of my class, and an argument that the connotation of the word was harmful, my teacher finally apologized.
Word went around that I was the “r-word” police. Soon enough my best friends, their friends and so on, joined my squad. I got used to being criticized. I got used to being argued with. I got used to disagreements and lectures and the attitude that was often times given to me. But I was also given support that I was, and still am, grateful for.
From this point, things just got bigger and better.
Through Special Olympics I met new people who have supported me and given me more reason to stand up for what I believe in. I can honestly say that the word “retarded” does not at all describe the loving people I’ve met who have intellectual disabilities. On March 7th of this year, as a 9th grader, I conducted a Ban the R-word pledge day at the same junior high.
We received about 250 signatures between the students and the teachers who vowed to think before they spoke. In addition, I’ve met other kids my age who help with Ban the R-word and, hopefully, by the end of the summer I will have my own non-profit to benefit the amazing campaign. It’s crazy to that this all started on a pool deck with two very incredible people!
Of course there are things I wish I had done better in my campaign.
My advice, if you’d ever want to start your own chapter of the campaign, would be:
- Get organized! First, contact your administration at your school. Then find the teachers, parents, volunteers, etc. that you know would be interested in helping.
- Get informed! Contact Special Olympics. Read up on what you are going to support. Plus, not only do they offer posters, but they also offer an online pledge, t-shirts, advice and ideas! Get on their website www.specialolympics.org
- Get excited! Get some friends involved. It’s easier to stand up for what you believe when other people are standing with you. Hang up some posters, make announcements, post things on Facebook, Twitter, etc. to let people know what’s coming up!
- Stay firm! Remember to always have compassion for your cause. Never pass up an opportunity to spread the word to end the word! You are standing up for many.
Filed under: BethesdaBlog 2012, Innovation Tagged: | Ban the r-word, down syndrome, intellectual disability, Katie Pullano, online pledge, r-word, retarded, Special Olympics, spread the word to end the word