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Those who work with, know and love, or are themselves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities understand the negative impact of the “R-word,” retard(ed). Spreading awareness is the main reason that SARAH, Inc. is bringing an independent documentary, The R-Word, to The Kate for a special screening on Sunday, Oct. 6.
Like other derogatory labels, the R-word is not only hurtful in the moment, but carries stigma and the implication that those with disabilities are not capable and not like other people. The film features family members telling their stories, particularly from the perspective of the person with the disability as well as a sibling of someone with a disability.
Viewers will come away with a better understanding of “what it’s like to grow up with a disability and what it’s like to grow up with a sibling with a disability,” said SARAH Director of Enrichment Services George Reid-Perry. “A lot of times what you see is that families recognize that there’s that point where siblings start to drift apart or can drift apart just because of their abilities and what their focus is.
“We thought this was a good opportunity for us to do something a little bit different that we haven’t done,” he continued.
While it’s never planned a film screening, the organization previously participated in the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, co-founded by Soeren Palumbo, whose sister, Olivia, has intellectual disabilities. Both Soeren and Olivia Palumbo are featured in the film.
Reid-Perry hopes the film will help promote better understanding of “the individuals that we serve or who have disabilities that, because of the use of the R-word, have been stigmatized throughout their lives as those who can’t achieve and those who don’t have the same abilities as others,” he said. “And it’s really highlighting why that’s such a misconception.”
At $25, tickets include a short discussion with a member of the film’s production team following the screening as well as a reception with light hors d’oeuvres and beverages. Proceeds will support the work of SARAH, Inc.
The organization offers KIDSTEPS, one of the state’s largest birth-to-three programs, which helps to identify developmental delays in children from infancy through toddlerhood and provides services such as speech pathology, occupational and physical therapy, and guidance to families to incorporate early intervention into their everyday lives.
SARAH, Inc., also offers a range of support services to adults: work training, social skills development, and enrichment activities. The staff works with business partners in the community to place adults in jobs that are the right fit for both.
“One of the things that SARAH was well known for—probably most well-known for—over the years was the focus on employment,” Reid-Perry said. “[T]hat is one particular part of someone’s life, but then how do you incorporate the other things that are important? How do you manage a home? What do you do with your leisure time? Those are all things that are important.
“How you get yourself up in the morning and get ready and get dressed and make sure you wear the appropriate [clothing] and then...be ready to start your day?” he continued. “That’s where you saw the formulation of the residential support, people wanting to live in their family home or independently in the community.”
SARAH was established 61 years ago “as a group of families that had children who needed to get into the workforce but just didn’t have the resources available at the time,” said Stephanie Cona, SARAH, Inc.’s marketing and communications coordinator.
The Apple Doll Tea House was “opened in 1973 as the nation’s first food service training program for people with differing abilities,” according to the SARAH, Inc., website.
The organization split into three separate entities 25 to 30 years ago, explained Reid-Perry, each with its own board of directors and executive director. SARAH Foundation in Guilford is the remaining connection, continuing to raise funds for all three.
SARAH, Inc., is based in Westbrook and provides services at locations in Madison, North Haven, and Hamden, as well as in Westbrook.
“Ultimately, our goal is focused on bringing in the community aspect of this,” Reid-Perry explained about the film screening. “We love the local support that we already have—I certainly see that with a number of individuals that we’ve been able to successfully help gain employment in the area. So we know that the community is invested in helping us achieve our mission.
“This is another opportunity for us to reach out to the community to say, We’d love to have your support in this,” he said.
The R-Word screening and reception will take place on Sunday, Oct. 6, from 3 to 5:30 p.m. General admission tickets are available at www.katharinehepburntheater.org/events/the-r-word/ or at The Kate’s box office, 300 Main St., Old Saybrook.
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