My Mission: End the R-Word
Ed Barbanell, an actor and advocate for people with intellectual disabilities, delivered this rousing speech at the Wyoming Youth Leadership Forum on July 10, 2012.
Below is a full excerpt and video of his brilliant, honest and courageous remarks.
(Long, silent pause)
Thank you for your patience during that long, silent and awkward pause.
For the first four years of my life, that was me. Unable to speak. Cut off from the world. Doctors told my family to accept that as the reality of my life. My disability, Down Syndrome, was going to leave me speechless for the rest of my life.
Well, I got one thing to say to those doctors who doubted me – take a look at me now!
My name is Eddie Barbanell, and I don’t accept the limitations other people place on me.
Never have. Never will.
When I first became involved in Special Olympics, baseball was my sport. And I don’t mean to brag...but I will...for the sake of the speech, of course.
If you saw me out there on that field, you would never, ever forget me.
I must have been a great hitter, right? Nope. I wasn’t bad, but you’ve seen better.
Then I must have been a great fielder? Nope. I could hold my own, but you’ve seen better.
So, you may be asking yourself, what made this guy so unforgettable?
Dirt stains are what made me a legend.
You see, I played baseball the way I’ve lived the rest of my life – never giving up – which means I would slide into the bases like my life depended on it.
And not just first base. I would slide into second. And third. And don’t get started on home. I would start my slide home the moment I left third base. And if I came up short, I’d get up and slide again.
I was a lunatic out of there. Ask my mother. I’m pretty sure my baseball career destroyed her washing machine.
I don’t know what it was, but I’ve always had something in me that allowed me to forget about what everyone else was doing, to forget about what was normal, to forget about what was expected of me and my disability.
My whole life, I’ve been sliding headfirst into new situations and new opportunities. I love challenging people’s expectations of me.
Being born with a disability means I inherited unique abilities. And challenges. Challenges that I have worked hard to endure and overcome with the help of my loving family, friends and programs such as the Special Olympics and at your very own Wyoming Youth Leadership Forum.
Inheriting these challenges is something I could never control. I’d be lying to you and we’d all be lying to ourselves if we didn’t admit that being born with a disability can be frustrating at times.
It’s an incredible test of our resolve to overcome adversity. It tests us, it tests our families, our communities, and our political leaders.
I can accept the disability that I’ve inherited because I have what it takes to overcome the challenges that come with that.
I have what it takes to lead a joyous and fulfilled life. I have the love and support of my family and friends.
I have the desire to get as much out of life as anyone else.
But the thing I cannot stand is inheriting society’s limited opportunities and expectations of me. I inherited my disability, and I’m doing everything I can to make the most of it. How dare you stand in my way!
If you want to encourage, support and enable my greatness, then I welcome your support. If not, then get out of my way!
That is why organizations such as the Special Olympics and Wyoming Youth Leadership Forum are so important. They empower us. They give us the tools to take our message to the world. They help us become leaders capable of changing the way the world sees us.
On July 20, 1968, one of my personal heroes, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, stood in front of a crowd of 100 people at the very first Special Olympics. Those 100 people were standing in a stadium capable of holding 85,000 people. Eunice must have looked so small out there in the middle of that gigantic stadium overseeing an event that was largely ignored by the public and the press.
But lucky for us, this mighty woman, this incredible leader, had a message of hope that was so much larger than the stadium that tried to mock her. She lit the torch on that day in 1968, and her message of awareness, acceptance and inclusion has burned a path across the world changing minds, attitudes and laws.
In Eunice’s own words:
“You are the stars and the world is watching you.
By your presence, you send a message to every village, every city, every nation.
A message of hope. A message of victory.
The right to play on any playing field‐you have earned it.
The right to study in any school‐you have earned it.
The right to hold a job‐you have earned it.
The right to be anyone's neighbor‐you have earned it!"
We are here to help make sure that message keeps growing.
There are many ways for us to continue Eunice’s vision and become leaders for a better tomorrow. I think there’s no better way to do this than to lead by example.
For those of us with intellectual and physical disabilities, the more we challenge ourselves and the more we accomplish, the greater we will become as leaders.
It might be participating in school.
Or getting a job.
Or volunteering in your community.
Or joining the Special Olympics and learning a new sport.
Or being a good neighbor.
The more other people take notice of what we’re able to accomplish, the more opportunities they’ll give us. That’s leading by example. And that’s a powerful form of leadership.
For me, there’s another very simple but powerful way for all of us to be leaders and that’s to change the way people speak about those of us with disabilities.
That’s why I’ve teamed up with my pal Tim Shriver and the Board of Special Olympics to help lead a very important cause to me ‐‐ ending the derogatory use of the word retarded.
Here’s a rap about “Ending the R‐Word.”
I’m pleased to be here with all of you at in wonderful Wyoming where the sky is big and oh so blue.
As leaders, we must all find a way to teach people to stand up and care,
And I propose we do that by ending the use of a word that’s most unfair.
Often you’ll hear someone say “retarded” without blinking an eye,
Unaware of the hurt they cause when they let that word carelessly fly.
We have the same needs as all of you,
Love, respect and comraderie, too
We are sensitive, caring and very aware,
Don’t use the R‐word and please don’t stare.
As leaders we can change attitudes,
And use of the R‐word is definitely rude.
We have to make society conscious about that word’s hurtful effect,
And get them on board to empathize and reject.
The Farrelly Bros took a big chance,
When they cast me in The Ringer and let me do the steam room dance.
I went all Hollywood and got myself some clout,
Which comes in handy when you have a message to shout.
We must erase the stigma when people say retarded,
We hate that word, it needs to be discarded.
They banned the word retarded when they passed Rosa’s law, I stood next to Obama and helped him correct that legislative flaw.
We’re on our way, but our journey has just begun,
I need your help, come on, it’ll be fun.
We’re going to end this with a pledge, and I want all of you to say out of loud, I want everyone to hear. Let our voices be heard. Repeat after me.
I pledge. To support. The elimination. Of the derogatory use of the R‐word. From everyday speech. And promote acceptance. Inclusion. And respect. Of people with intellectual. And developmental disabilities.
Thank you and I’m proud to be here with you at Wyoming Youth Leadership Forum. Let’s keep working together and lead us forward into a better tomorrow.
Oh, by the way, you scratched my CD, you know!
Ed Barbanell is a man of many talents, but he’s best known as an actor and an advocate for people with intellectual disabilities. Ed starred in the 2005 Fox Searchlight movie The Ringer with Johnny Knoxville, a role that has enabled Ed to travel the world spreading the film’s message of acceptance, inclusion and respect for all people. Ed’s other credits include Workaholics, Jackass 3, Hall Pass, Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory and The Legend of Awesomest Maximus. Ed proudly serves a member of the Board of Directors of Special Olympics International and Special Advisor to Tim Shriver, the CEO and Chairman of the Special Olympics International.