Now more than ever – our words matter!

Now more than ever – our words matter!

It’s time to be respectful!

These are anxious times, and name-calling or put downs add to the divisive feelings. Unfortunately, some of that poor behavior is exhibited by people in leadership positions and is rightfully called out on media and social posts. Variety KC feels this is a good time to provide some education about words that hurt, and words to avoid.
Maybe an adult stumbles on the sidewalk and claims, “I’m such a spaz,” or a child on the playground uses the R-word (shortened slang for mental retardation).
Most people don’t intentionally mean to hurt someone, but here’s the problem. These terms were used as an insult, a reference to someone who is uncoordinated or doing something stupid. Attaching a term associated with a disability is hurtful and derogatory toward people with a disability. Even when used unintentionally, these words reinforce negative stereotypes.
When the same words are used to intentionally hurt someone with a disability, or physical movements are mimed and mocked – that is a whole other level of inappropriate and awful behavior.
Avoiding hurtful terms is not being politically correct, it is about showing people the same respect you want for yourself.
Sometimes, and fortunately far less often than in the past, you’ll hear a friend or co-worker casually use the R-word or something similar. It can be an uncomfortable situation, but you will feel worse if you don’t address it. After listening to our Variety parents and families, we recommend pulling them aside and saying, “You probably don’t even realize that word can be hurtful to others. Is it alright to use something like “silly” or “ridiculous” instead?’” This lets them gently know that the word isn’t acceptable and that there are lots of alternative words that aren’t offensive.
What other words are problematic? When a person has a disability, it doesn’t define them so others shouldn’t use inappropriate words to define them either! We’ve checked with our Variety family and some of our partners in the industry to come up with the start of a guide to follow when talking about a person with a disability. Terms evolve over time as we learn to best address this sensitive topic. Not everyone will agree with these and we welcome your addition and input.

Don’t say: “Normal Person.” Say instead: “Person without a disability”
Don’t say: “handicapped, crippled, deformed, invalid.” Say instead: “A person with a disability”
Don’t say: “Retarded, tard, moron, or intellectually challenged.” Say instead: “A person with an intellectual disability”

Don’t say: “Mongol, mongoloid, downs.” Say instead: “A person with Down syndrome”
Don’t say: “Spastic, spaz,” Say instead: “A person with a disability or a person with cerebral palsy”
Don’t say: “paraplegic, quadriplegic, paralyzed,” Say instead: “A person with paraplegia, person with quadriplegia”
Don’t say: “confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound,” Say instead: “A person who uses a wheelchair”
Don’t say “dumb” when referring to someone who doesn’t speak. Say instead: “non-verbal”
Don’t say: “dwarf, midget, little person, vertically challenged.” Say instead: “short-statured person”
Don’t say “crazy, insane, lunatic, maniac, mental, psycho, psychopath, skitzo.” Say instead: “A person with a mental illness”
Don’t say “institution, psych hospital, looney bin.” Say instead: “mental health clinic”
Now that we’ve covered how to talk about a person who has a disability, let’s cover how to talk to them. Just say “hi!”
Be yourself, and talk to them directly with eye contact. Don’t refer to their caregiver or family and don’t assume they can’t understand you or respond.
Always ask before jumping in to help, they may not want or need it. If they have a service animal, don’t talk or pet it. These are trained animals who are on the job.
Don’t assume that someone with a disability has other disabilities. For example, when speaking to someone in a wheelchair or with low vision, there’s no reason to raise your voice as if they could not hear you.
When appropriate, offer your name and ask their name. Names give us an identity and are the starting point of creating a bond. Here is a link to the National Disability Association if you would like to see some additional terms and information.

Variety KC Harness Cafés at Liberty Middle Schools

Variety KC Harness Cafés at Liberty Middle Schools

For the first time ever, Body Weight Support technology has been moved out of the therapy gym and into the classroom. The “Harness School” Cafe is an innovative concept that allows middle school students who use wheelchairs and walkers a chance to stand upright with their hands free to fully participate in their school coffee shop. This allows them to practice job skills such as taking orders and serving coffee, integrate real-world math skills by operating a cash register, and socialize with their peers at eye level for the first time ever, all while gaining the therapeutic benefits of standing and moving on their own.

For an investment of $10,000 each, two Variety KC “Harness Cafés” have been built inside middle schools in the Liberty, Missouri, school district. The cafés sell and serve coffee, hot chocolate, and snacks while providing a life skills environment for students as part of the “Cooking to Learn” curriculum.  Each year, students with special needs work in the skills class alongside their non-disabled peers. But before the implementation of these life-changing “Harness Cafes,” students with physical disabilities couldn’t take full advantage of the learning, movement, and social opportunities working in the cafes.  The harness will be used by 20 kids with a variety of special needs who work alongside 40 abled-bodied peers. This cafe will serve new students each year and the high school is already considering duplicating this program. The harness can be used for at least 20 years.

As one student said, “Before the harness, greeter was the only job I could have. My wheelchair was below the counter, so I couldn’t make drinks or use the cash register. When I strap into the harness, it frees my hands and since it runs on a track – I can move all around the care. Now I can work just like my friends.”

Dr. Kendra Gagnon, the physical therapist who helped Variety KC plan and design the cafés, says the system does more than facilitate movement for students who usually rely on assistive devices like wheelchairs or walkers for mobility. It gives students a chance to experience getting out of their wheelchairs and interacting with “customers” alongside their peers – upright, hands-free, and eye level.   In an upright position, eye-to-eye with their peers, all students learn what’s possible – disabilities disappear, and new relationships are engaged and formed. Variety KC is a leader of inclusion in schools and communities, sharing innovative ways to include ALL kids.

Money raised in the cafés makes the investment sustainable. The most exciting outcome. As a supplier to the cafés, Danny O’Neill, the owner of the local Roasterie coffee company, attended the grand openings. Seeing the skills training enabled by the harness systems, O’Neill was inspired to go back to his own businesses to see where he could implement the system and provide jobs for local graduates who would benefit from this system.

Gagnon says, “My hope is that one day this system will be like a uniform. The employee would wake up, get dressed and put on the vest that they will later attach to the harness system at work. It will be seamless, needing no additional help from a co-worker or supervisor. How empowering and life-changing is that?”

Want to more?  Contact

Variety KC Communication Boards

Variety KC Communication Boards

Variety KC Installs Inclusive Communication Boards in Playgrounds


Above and beyond what is considered an inclusive playground (physically allowing all kids to engage and play together), Variety KC is installing inclusive communication boards to aid engagement between kids and parents or caregivers, kids and other kids, and between participants speaking different languages.

Deborah Wiebrecht, Variety KC’s Executive Director, explains the impact of these boards, “By pointing or even simply gazing at the various symbols and pictures on the board, even young kids or children with limited expressive language ability can clearly express their needs and wants. It’s just one more way to remove barriers and make our playgrounds as inclusive as possible.”

Currently, you will find a communication board at the new Variety KC Hospital Hill playground in front of Children’s Mercy. Eventually the boards will be available at all six of the Variety KC playgrounds, plus playing fields and community facilities. For more information, contact Deborah Wiebrecht at 913-559-2309 or through email at


The High Cost of Raising a Child with Special Needs

The High Cost of Raising a Child with Special Needs

On average, it costs four times as much to raise a child with special needs. Part of this expense is adaptive equipment. The average number of pieces of equipment needed is 4-6 per child. Even the care for children without physical disabilities can be staggering. A child with autism may incur expenses of over $60,000 per year!

To cover these costs, families take out loans, max out credit cards and use retirement savings to pay for the here and now. Or, the kids simply go without recommended care.

Families also rely heavily on insurance. Unfortunately, insurance doesn’t always cover equipment and costs that the children desperately need.  That’s where Variety KC and our generous partners come in. Variety provides much needed mobility equipment and communication devices – we fund needs, not just wants.

Please help us to help families right here in the Kansas City area. Give generously today at Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Heartly Thank You