News Article Details

Special Olympics play promotes inclusion

Concord Monitor - 12/16/2017

Monitor staff

Growing up with disabilities, one word hurts more than others.

It’s the R-word, which comes from the French word for “late” and its derogatory use has become a synonym for stupid. Sometimes it’s used casually, others times as a weapon.

“The R-word is a very disgraceful word that shouldn’t be used,” 16-year-old Skylar Oberon said. “I’ve heard people say it at school and it bothers me.”

Oberon is one of the actors It’s Our School Too!, a play being performed at the Franklin Opera House at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday. The performance is a fundraiser for the Golden Eagles team of Special Olympics New Hampshire, but it also offers a lesson in respect for the actors – made up of Special Olympics athletes and friends in the Best Buddies program.

“It’s really about inclusion and that’s why it’s called It’s Our School Too!,” said Robin O’Dougherty, who wears many hats as a coach with the Concord Special Olympics team, special education behavior specialist at Bow Memorial and a Best Buddies advisor.

Best Buddies is a national organization that works to create opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In his 20-plus years working in special education, O’Dougherty has seen the push for classroom integration and a growing respect among students for classmates who learn differently, but she said there is still room for improvement.

“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” she said.

The play was commissioned by the Special Olympics and debuted in connection with the 2010 USA National Games. It was written by Suzy Messerole and Aamera Siddiqui and reflects the real experiences of students with intellectual disabilities as told in interviews at a time when most grade schools had separate special education classrooms.

“It shows people with different abilities and teaches about how not to bully anybody regardless of if they have a disability,” said Cara Haley, 30, of Concord, following a rehearsal at the Baker Free Library in Bow. Haley has a learning disability and remembers hurtful comments from classmates as early as third or fourth grade.

In particular, the play takes on the use of the R-word.

O’Dougherty doesn’t hear the term “anywhere near as much” as he once did, but it still happens. Oberon said he has heard the R-word used casually by high school classmates and hopes this play helps people understand how offensive it can be to others who hear it used, even if those people don’t say so in that moment.

Similar feelings about the word and general treatment of people with disabilities are shared among the mixed cast of more than 15 youths and adults, some with and some without intellectual disabilities.

“People with disabilities get treated the wrong way,” said cast member Emily Burns, a 13-year-old student and Best Buddy at Bow Memorial who learned about the play through O’Dougherty.

Performances of It’s Our School, Too! will be at the Franklin Opera House on Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 and proceeds will cover fees and expenses for athletes with the Golden Eagles Special Olympics team.


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