Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate
Civilized, caring people have stopped using common derogatory terms intended to stereotype, belittle and show disrespect to people due to race, sexual orientation, gender or certain physical attributes.
But there is one common slang term that is equally insulting and offensive, yet people use it without hesitation: the R-word.
The R-word, “retard” or “retarded,” is slang for the term mental retardation. Mental retardation was what doctors, psychologists, and other professionals used to describe people with significant intellectual impairment. The R-word is still commonly used by society as a thoughtless insult for someone or something stupid. You might hear someone say without thinking, “That is so retarded” or “Don’t be such a retard.”
When used in this way, the R-word can apply to anyone or anything. No one connects it with a real person who has a disability. Though the user generally doesn’t mean any harm, it is still damaging and hurtful.
In 2008, the Special Olympics organization along with Best Buddies International and a coalition of national disability organizations started a campaign including numerous demonstrations against the movie “Tropic Thunder” due to scenes promoting the idea that a “retard” is funny. At the same time, Special Olympics launched the website www.r-word.org to combat the inappropriate use of the R-word in common usage.
The following year, the “Spread the Word to End the Word” was created by youth with and without intellectual disabilities who participated in the Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games. March 31, 2009 was the first annual day of awareness for “Spread the Word to End the Word.”
This year, “Spread the Word to End the Word” Day is Wednesday, March 7. It is time to build awareness for society to stop and think about its’ use of the R-word. You may not think of this word as hate speech, but is it hurtful and painful to millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and friends. The R-word is just as cruel and offensive as any other slur.
Happily, as with many other social changes for the better, it is the younger generation around the world taking a stand and raising awareness of the dehumanizing effects of the words “retard” or “retarded” and are helping encourage others to think before they speak.
Up to three percent of the world’s population have intellectual disabilities, 200 million people around the world. It’s the largest disability population in the world. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are capable and enjoy the same life experiences you do: listening to music, playing video games, watching the latest movies, and having fun, as well as working together toward athletic excellence, engaging in enriching friendships, attending school and work, driving, getting married, and contributing to society in numerous ways.
A Special Olympics’ Multi-National Public Opinion Study of Attitudes toward People with Intellectual Disabilities, conducted by Gallup, reveals that throughout the world, over 60 percent of people still believe that people with intellectual disabilities should be segregated in schools and in the workplace.
Help the Special Olympics and thousands of supporters to help change the conversation and eliminate the demeaning use of the R-word from today’s popular vocabulary. It’s been done with other terms we no longer use and shun, and we can do it once again. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities may appear different, but have unique gifts and talents to share with the world.
Casually using the word “retard(ed)” to refer to an action as less than ideal makes someone with an intellectual disability feel less than human. Demeaning any of our fellow human beings by using inappropriate words toward any population negatively impacts all of us.
In response to Special Olympics athletes’ call for change, the Special Olympics International Board of Directors adopts a resolution to update the movement’s terminology from “mental retardation” to “intellectual disabilities.” As language has evolved, Special Olympics has updated its official terminology to use standard, people-first language that is more acceptable to its athletes.
What can you do? Ask ten people to join you in a pledge to eliminate the R-word. Ask your friends to do the same. Post the pledge this week on your Facebook page, Twitter account, blog or Pinterest board on “Spread the Word to End The Word” day on Wednesday, March 7. Visit the campaign website for logos and graphics to post, and add your name to the pledge list. Please help make the R-word unacceptable. Be part of helping create a world that accepts and includes ALL people.
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!