'R' word campaign seeks elimination of hurtful words

One Fortuna organization is continuing efforts to eliminate the use of hurtful words and encourage children and others to be speak nicely to each other.

The "r" word campaign has been underway for several years with the hope of educating people to stop using the word "retard" or "retarded" as a slang word to mean stupid.

Reaching For Independence Inc. assists adults with developmental disabilities to integrate in their community through meaningful employment and learning opportunities. Jeff Pockett is the group's assistant service director and he views the "r" word campaign as an outreach opportunity.

"This is a great opportunity to educate," he said. "It's hard to change, but we are taking small steps to educate our kids, and they can be the start of the change."

The "r" word campaign includes Reaching for Independence consumers such as Stefan Thomsen and others talking to community service groups and visiting school classrooms in the Eel River Valley.

"Please be careful with the words you speak," Thomsen said, "as many disabilities are not visible. You never know when what you say could hurt someone."

Pockett said this personal effort allows young people to share their feelings on how the "r" word can be offensive, and at the same time, create an atmosphere of support. Recently, the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce heard a presentation on the "r" word campaign, and over the last few years, at least seven elementary schools and Fortuna High School have had presentations on how certain words can be hurtful.

Reaching for Independence Inc. was established in Fortuna in 2005 and offers persons with developmental disabilities opportunities to learn a trade, receive pay, and work with and for people in the community. This includes training and mentoring programs for learning valuable job skills.

Photos by Mary Bullwinkel/Beacon

1. Reaching for Independence representative Stefan Thomsen urges everyone to "be careful with the words you speak, (because) you never know when you could hurt someone."

2. Students from Fortuna Middle School wrote notes of appreciation to Reaching for Independence, after hearing a presentation on the "r" word campaign, which seeks to eliminate the use of the word "retard" or "retarded" as a slang word for stupid.