Speaker raises awareness for intellectually disabled

Allison Harris

Addie Lasseigne, lead buddy ambassador for Best Buddies Texas, said her peers in middle school called her names for having an intellectual disability and made her not want to go to school.

Lasseigne, who has an intellectual disability, spoke at an event protesting the use of the word “retarded” to describe the community Sunday. The event is part of a weeklong series to spread awareness of respectful language when referring to people with intellectual disabilities.

“There are many positive words that describe people with disabilities, but some people still use the ‘R’ word,” she said. “When people use the ‘R’ word, it hurts my feelings.”

About 210 people attended the event, sponsored by Longhorn Volunteers for Special Olympics and Best Buddies UT. Best Buddies matches people with intellectual disabilities in friendships with volunteers and creates leadership opportunities for this group.

Students and Austin residents circled the Main Mall in a symbolic “walk of friendship.” About 20 local and University organizations set up booths for activities and games.

The event raised $7,652 through online registration to support and extend Best Buddies branches
in Texas.

Eddie Barbanell, an actor with Down syndrome, played Johnny Knoxville’s roommate Billy in the 2005 movie “The Ringer.” He said the film helped change how people treated him.

“‘The Ringer’ showed people with intellectual disabilities are smart, brave, with a great sense of humor, like all of you,” he said.

Barbanell said it is time people with intellectual disabilities are regarded like other minority groups.
“Isn’t it time we gave the same respect to people like me, who have an intellectual disability?” he asked.

Marketing and business honors senior Erica Brody, college buddy director of Best Buddies UT, said respectful language is important in an environment as diverse as the University.

“Disability is a really critical aspect of diversity a lot of people don’t think about,” she said.

Undeclared freshman Jordan Graves said the event made her more aware of people with intellectual disabilities.

“Actually, I used to use the word all the time, not against anybody, just like, ‘Oh, you’re being retarded,’” she said. “But now I’m definitely going to try to stop using the word permanently.”