Lauren Potter can get passionate about the R-word.
Saturday, some of that passion was caught on video in Fort Wayne as the 23-year-old cast member from Fox’s hit TV show, Glee, was in town to speak at a disabilities awareness event, where she videotaped a public service announcement promoting an end to the use of the word retard.
I’ve heard the R-word all my life, and it makes me feel horrible! said Potter, delivering a script as cameras rolled.
Maybe, she added, you didn’t realize how much that word hurts.
Like the character the actress plays on Glee, Cheerios cheerleading squad member Becky Jackson, Potter was born with Down syndrome. It’s a genetic condition that limits her intellectual capabilities.
But that doesn’t mean she, or people like her, are stupid, unworthy or acceptable targets for exclusion or bullying, said Megan Weaver of Fort Wayne, director of administration for the Down Syndrome Association of Northeast Indiana, a sponsor of Potter’s visit.
After the taping with Fort Wayne’s Anchor Films in the lobby of the Carson-Boxberger law firm, Potter gave a talk Saturday night at the Abilities Abound event in the Marriott Courtyard downtown.
During that gathering, attendees were invited to sign a pledge not to use the R-word by scanning in a code on their mobile phones.
Weaver said the Spread the Word to End the Word national campaign promotes use of less-loaded language.
A person should not be described as retarded or a retard, she said, adding that some affected people also object to the term mental retardation.
A preferred reference is that a person has intellectual disabilities, she said. Similarly, the campaign advocates for person-centered language.
So, a child can have Down syndrome or be a child with Down Syndrome, she said. But he or she should not be referred to as a Down Syndrome child.
Weaver said bullying of such children with the R-word is still common.
I think if you ask anyone who has a child with an intellectual disability, they can give you a personal story, she said.
That word can hurt and we want to promote respect of all people. The word should be eliminated from everybody’s vernacular.
The public service announcement will be aired locally on Fox and will be used to raise awareness in schools, said Lynne Gilmore, executive director of the AWS Foundation in Fort Wayne.
For Wayne is the first community to take the national campaign to the local level, the two women said.
Potter is ideal for the job because she is so widely recognized by young people, both with and without Down syndrome.
She’s a role model, Gilmore said.
After her shoot, Potter said she wants everyone to know that people with Down syndrome want to accomplish dreams and reach for the stars.
She said she’s been an actress since she was 16 and was cast in Glee after an audition with 13 other girls.
She said people should realize that how people appear and what they’re really like can be different.
Cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, played by Jane Lynch, comes off as mean on the show, Potter said.
But in real life, she’s so nice. We’re like that, she said, crossing her middle finger over her index finger.
Her advice to other young people with Down syndrome is that if people don’t see you for who you really are right away, don’t get discouraged. Never, ever give up, she said.