Thursday, March 5, 2015

Special Olympics club encourages students to stop the use of the “R-word”

Kayla McKeon, a 27-year-old Syracuse native with Down syndrome, shared her experiences with the “R-word” as the Special Olympics Club’s guest speaker on Wednesday.
by Sara Swann from The Daily Orange:
On Wednesday at 8 a.m., members of the Special Olympics Club at Syracuse University spray-painted orange messages in the snow on the Quad to raise awareness of their “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign.
The “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign encourages people to stop the use of the “R-word,” or the word “retard(ed),” because it is “exclusive, offensive and derogatory.” Wednesday marked the annual day of awareness, which takes place the first Wednesday of every March, according to the campaign’s website.
In addition to raising awareness about the campaign, the spray-painted messages also invited the public to attend the Special Olympics Club meeting on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The meeting took place in Kittredge Auditorium, where Kayla McKeon, a 27-year-old Syracuse native with Down syndrome, shared her experiences with the “R-word” as the Special Olympics Club’s guest speaker.
“If you must call me something, please call me Kayla,” McKeon said in her presentation to an audience of about 50 people. “I am not a retard. I am differently abled.”
McKeon, who was the keynote speaker at the 2015 Winter Games in Syracuse, spoke about how she was physically and verbally bullied throughout her school years. In one instance, McKeon was pushed down and her back was fractured causing her to miss several weeks of school.
“My mom always told me to brush it off,” McKeon said. “She would say ‘You are the bigger person.’”
McKeon’s mother, Patti, and McKeon’s father, Mark, were both present at the meeting. Patti shared a story about how when Kayla was younger, she struggled to keep up with her cousins.
“It was frustrating to see that she couldn’t keep up with them,” Patti said. “But they were all too little to know any better.”
McKeon started playing soccer for Special Olympics New York when she was 11 years old.
“It was a life-changing moment because she was among her peers and I knew she wasn’t going to fall behind,” McKeon’s mother added.
McKeon continued to play multiple sports for SONY over the years, including floor hockey, bowling, track and field, softball and bocce. In 2011, McKeon was one of nine SONY athletes to compete in Athens, Greece, where she won a silver and bronze medal for bocce, a lawn game similar to bowling.
McKeon said in an interview after the meeting that her favorite thing about Special Olympics is that she gets to “hang out with friends and stay fit at the same time.”
“This is where I make all my friends,” she said.
McKeon is currently working toward earning her Associates Degree in general studies from Onondaga Community College and LeMoyne College by taking night classes. She has taken 22 credits so far, including two semesters of sign language so that she can “talk to people (she has) never been able to talk to before.”
At the end of the meeting, Nick Neu, the president of the Special Olympics Club at SU, invited everyone to sign a banner taking a pledge never to use the “R-word.”
McKeon also tossed T-shirts that said, “I pledge to respect everyone” to audience members.
“I can do what all of you guys can do and more,” McKeon said in her presentation. “I challenge you all to keep up with me because I am not done yet.”

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