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The fight against ‘the R-word’

Marklund invites visitors, employees to sign names to the cause

BLACKBERRY TOWNSHIP – Margo Cherrie smiled as she stood in front of a placard on a table Wednesday afternoon at Marklund; meanwhile, employees and visitors took turns signing their names to be part of the campaign to “Spread the Word to End the Word.”

The word is, as literature available at the event pointed out, “the R-word,” a derogatory term that once was considered more acceptable as a way to describe those with disabilities.

Marklund is a nonprofit organization that serves those with serious and profound developmental disabilities and special health care needs, and Cherrie, a case manager and a qualified intellectual developmental professional, invited anyone who came into the lobby to sign their name to the cause to fight the casual use of the term.

“They are signing their name to signify that they are ending ‘the R-word,’” she said, adding that she has been a big supporter of that cause since her college days at Lewis University.

Information on the cause can be found at

Cherrie smiled as employees Shannon Gardner and Cole Paler signed their names. She said visitors also had been signing.

Gil Fonger, Marklund’s president and CEO, said the word still is used by some people who might not realize they are offending anyone. He said older people might be comfortable with such a word, as it had a more common usage in the past. He said he has heard it used by well-educated people.

At times, however, the word is used intentionally by those seeking to be insulting. Marklund officials shared such an instance – the word was in an email recently received addressing the Show You Care Kane referendum, which was defeated last week. The referendum sought to raise about $13 million to be administered by a disabilities board – also known as a 377 board – to help those who are disabled.

Officials said the email was sent by an opponent of the referendum who added that it was for “people who aren’t even worthwhile members of society.”

Although Fonger said such a sentiment still was the exception, rather than the norm, he did say someone stood up at a session addressing the referendum and asked, “Why should we care about these kids?”

He said he appreciated Cherrie’s efforts and was pleased that so many were eager to sign the placard, which featured signatures using colorful markers.

Employees helped residents who needed assistance signing their names.

“Margo has been a great advocate,” he said.

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