So why should you stop using the R-word? I could make this post short by telling you that I guarantee every time you use the word retarded in a derogatory manner, at least one person who hears you cringes and thinks you’re an insensitive nitwit for continuing to keep it as part of your vocabulary. But I’m going to dig a little deeper than that.
Let’s start at the beginning. The word retarded began as a medical label for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In fact, when I was in grad school for Special Education we were required to pick two specific areas to focus on. One of mine was “mental retardation” – that was the official term used for my course of study. In 2010, Congress actually replaced “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” in federal health, education and labor laws with the term “intellectual disability.”
Sadly, this once clinical word has transformed to a derogatory slur, and boy is it effective. The word retarded or retard can cut through a person like few other words can. Intended to mean “stupid” or “idiotic” or “dumb” the term retarded is degrading and oppressive. It’s degrading not only to people with intellectual disabilities, but it’s degrading to their families and the people who love them. People with intellectual disabilities aren’t stupid or idiotic or dumb. They are people. People with feelings and hopes and dreams just like everyone else. So every time you use the R word to cut someone down, you not only degrade him or her, but you also dehumanize a whole other segment of the population.
Now I’m going to SHOW you why you need to remove this word from your vocabulary. This is my niece Brittany. She is an amazingly funny, caring, loving young lady, who also happens to have Down Syndrome. She is far from retarded. She is not stupid or idiotic or dumb. She is amazing. So next time you want to use that word, I want you to see her beautiful little face staring back at you.
Today is the annual awareness day for the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign. I’m challenging all the parents out there, if this word is part of your vocabulary, then eliminate it. Immediately. Secondly, let your kids know that this word is off limits. If you child were to drop the F-Bomb on the playground, surely you’d pull them aside and let them know why that is inappropriate. The R word is no different. Parents have the power to not only explain to our kids why they shouldn’t use the R word but to also lead by example and demonstrate compassion for all people, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.