I cringe at the sound of the r-word. It jars on my ears and sends a shiver down my spine.
I don’t think that people who use the word are always using it to be malicious. But that is what is so bothersome – the natural, nonchalant manner in which I hear it being used; the way it just rolls right off the tongue, no hesitation.
Most of the time, I hear it being used to talk about a situation or an idea. Sometimes, I’ve heard it as a way to call someone a name. But rarely do I hear it being used as a way to categorize, in an insulting way, a person with an intellectual disability (but this doesn’t mean it’s not). Regardless of why the word is being used, I do believe that everyone who uses it is ignorant: lacking knowledge or awareness in general.
I hear people using the r-word all the time. These are people who are very close to me like my family and close friends, and these are people who I bump into occasionally or meet for the first time.
The r-word is “retarded”.
In order to rewire your thoughts on the r-word, you have to understand that there are legitimate arguments against your defenses for using it. So, I’m going to break these down and provide a new perspective.
Common defenses for using the r-word –
1) “I was just implying that it’s stupid/foolish/absurd.”
– If you are trying to say something is stupid, foolish or absurd then say something is stupid, foolish or absurd.
2) “It’s politically correct” or “It’s a medical term.”
– Actually, it’s not. On October 5, 2010, President Obama signed a bill into federal law known as Rosa’s Law. The law removes the terms “mentally retarded” and “mental retardation” from federal health, education and labor policy. It replaces these with “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability” which are terms using people first language, an effort to decrease dehumanization by using evolved language that puts humans first and disabilities second.
– The DSM-5 that is coming out in May 2013 is actually revising the section called “mental retardation” to be renamed “intellectual disability”.
3) “I wasn’t using it that way.”
– What way? It doesn’t matter the context or the intention. It is always inappropriate to use racial slurs, sexist/sexual slurs, or other insulting and derogatory words about any characteristic, trait, or condition of a person. Why is this any different?
I don’t have to have a personal experience or relationship with intellectual disability to detest the r-word. I am fully aware of the power of words. It’s important to be conscious of how we speak, the words we choose and the way we express our thoughts.
I hope, now, you’ll think twice before using it and speak up when you hear it being used.
Like Nick said, the brother of Rosa (who inspired Rosa’s Law), “What you call people is how you treat them. If we change the words, maybe it will be the start of a new attitude towards people with disabilities.”