June 2013

Featured Emerging Leaders

Transition and Employment Projects

One of the goals of the Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects is to expand the vision of what is possible for youth and young adults with developmental disabilities to learn, live, work and play in their communities. We have been capturing stories of Montanans under age 34 who have a developmental disability according to the Montana definition and who have creatively organized their supports to:


  • Live in the community (on their own or with family or friends) and/or
  • Work in the community (including owning their own business) and/or
  • Access inclusive education (high school, college, community classes) and/or
  • Participate in recreation and leisure activities that are inclusive (that is, alongside people without disabilities)

Each month or so, we share one of these stories with Listserv members. You may also read about Montana's Emerging Leaders in our Featured EL Archives, 2009 EL Showcase [PDF] and 2010 EL Showcase [PDF]. To nominate yourself or someone else as an Emerging Leader, visit the Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects web site.

An Emerging Leader Story in Self-Advocacy

Interview by Maclaen Burningham, Rural Institute Consumer Advisory Council Member

Sad face with tear    

In 2007 the "r" Word campaign was started by parents of a child with significant disabilities. On their web site they explain, "Some people have mental retardation (intellectual disabilities). While mental retardation is not a bad word, when used to describe someone or something you think is bad or stupid it becomes another thoughtless hurtful word. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not bad. Their condition is not bad. The prejudice and discrimination toward people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is BAD...and WRONG! Please stop using the word 'retard'. It hurts individuals and families of those with disabilities."


In 2013, a Bozeman High School class decided to share their own message about the "r" word and suggested replacing it with a new "R" word, Respect. Teacher Tonya Shonkwiler and students from the Partners Club made a video about the "r" word to educate high school students about the impact of using the word 'retard' even when just joking around.


After viewing the video, Maclaen Burningham (Emerging Leader and Rural Institute Consumer Advisory Council member) generated a list of questions to ask the class.  On May 2nd, he interviewed the class of 13 students, 3 para-professionals, 1 teacher and 3 peer tutors. Students took turns answering questions during a conference call.  One student who doesn't speak generated answers using his iPad as a communication device.


Maclaen learned that the high school has a television station called Hawk T.V.  Students produce a show that is broadcast on Fridays during 3rd period home room on television sets in every classroom.  Jacob explained that it took three days to create and film the video with the help of the Hawk T.V. students.  He said that the class is looking forward to making more videos and the staff of Hawk T.V. already has ideas for the next year's "r" word campaign.


Tenth graders Amy and Jarrod stated they wanted to make the video to share how hurtful the "r" word can be to people and to encourage their classmates to stop using it.  Amy also hoped the video would help students with disabilities make more friends with their high school peers without disabilities.  A peer tutor, Amira, explained that she didn't think people realized they were offending other people by using the word; they weren't being malicious...just unaware.  But after the video aired people are more aware and are not using the "r" word. 


Sierra and Max explained that the Partners club is a social group made up of students with and without disabilities who participate in various activities such as fishing, baking, playing pool, hanging out, going to movies and going out to eat.  The club took on the project of making a video, selling 'r' word tee-shirts, and encouraging students to take the pledge to no longer use the term "retard." They raised $1700 through their bake sale, tee-shirt sales and raffle. In addition to educating students, they impacted the employers of Bozeman as well.  Bozeman businesses donated all of the prizes that were raffled off.


Several of the students (Cloe, Manny, Sierra, and Amy) mentioned they have made more friends since the video debuted - people are introducing themselves to the students they've seen on the video, sitting down at lunch together, and having more positive interactions overall.  They also reported feeling better about themselves, being able to express themselves for who they are, and having people take them more seriously.


The club shared that one of their next projects will be doing outreach to middle school students about the "r" word.  When it was suggested this could be an activity of the peer tutors and the life skills students all the students were ecstatic!


Please watch and share their video.  


(Thanks to Chloe, Hannah, Jarrod, Taylor, Olivia, Max, Manny, Tyler, Jacob, Caley, Amy, Amira, Lana, Austin, Sierra, Trevor, Lisa, Wendy, Sandy and Tonya for sharing this story.)



Class photo in front of high school  



Kim Brown
MT Transition Listserv


Find us on Facebook

This project is funded in whole or in part under a Contract with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. The statements herein do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Department.