Tuesday, March 4, 2014

End the "R" Word

Growing up in the South I was aware of the "N" word and knew that it was a hateful slur and should never be said. It wasn't until I had a beautiful child with Down syndrome, who I believe is full of immense potential, worth and value, that I began to understand how hurtful the "R" word is. I cringe just thinking that someday some cruel or even unknowing person may refer to my little man with such disregard.

The R-word, meaning “retard” or “retarded,” has found a place in common language and seems to be accepted by most, despite the fact that its use, casual or otherwise, is hurtful to millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.


It is time we Spread the Word to End the Word™ and build awareness for society to stop and think about its’ use of the R-word. Use of that word is hurtful and painful and whether intended or not, is a form of bullying. Most people don’t think of this word as hate speech, but that’s 
exactly what it feels like to millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and friends. 

When the terms “mental retardation” or “mentally retarded” were originally introduced they were medical terms with a specifically clinical connotation. On October 5, 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama officially signed bill S. 2781 or Rosa's Law into federal law. Rosa’s Law removes the terms “mental retardation” and "mentally retarded" from federal health, education and labor policy and replaces them with people first language such as “individual with an intellectual disability” and “intellectual disability.”

However, the pejorative forms, “retard” and “retarded” have been used widely in today’s society to degrade and insult people with intellectual disabilities. 
Additionally, when “retard” and “retarded” are used as synonyms for “dumb” or “stupid” by people without disabilities, it only reinforces painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities being less valued members of humanity.  

For too long, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have had to overcome the challenges society has put forth through stereotypes. My oldest daughter recently did her National History Day project on how persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities have been treated in our country. It wasn't all that long ago that they were institutionalized and even sterilized. The signing of Rosa’s Law is a significant milestone in establishing dignity, inclusion and respect for all people with intellectual disabilities. Ending casual use of the "R" word would take us even further.

Persons with intellectual disabilities deserve the same respect and dignity that each of us expects from others in our daily lives. The R-word is just as cruel and offensive as any other slur. It is time for a change and you can help. Visit www.r-word.org to make your pledge today. Eliminating the use of this word is a step toward respect.