Revision of the "R" Word

Advocate, Community Participation, Disability Add comments

There is a tremendous movement among individuals and interested groups to eliminate the words “retarded” and “retardation” from our vocabularies. The term “retard” has been designated by disability-rights advocates as hate speech and has been compared with racial, ethnic, and sexual epithets used by majority groups to target and humiliate minority groups.

A bipartisan bill enacted in the state of Maryland and recently introduced to the U. S. Senate would substitute the stigmatizing terms “mentally retarded” and “mental retardation” with the terms “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability” in federal health, education, and labor policy statutes. This change would not alter the eligibility requirements for services and supports. The Chief Executive Officer of The Arc, an organization that advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and related developmental disabilities, supports this bill. He states that “how we talk about people with disabilities is a critical step in promoting and protecting their basic civil and human rights.” Introduced as “Rosa’s Law,” this is only the first step in a lengthy process towards enactment. But it is a step.

My major stance is that the word is not the problem. Kris Kristofferson sings that “everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on, who they can feel better than anytime they please.” So if this particular word (retarded) is rejected, other words will take its place. Did you know that “retarded” replaced “moron,” imbecile” and “idiot?” The term “Down syndrome” replaced “Mongolian idiot,” and so on. The basic issue is turning the “R” word into “respect.”
How can we do that?

Read the blog about Billy’s employment. Read Embry Burrus’ comment on How Different is Different? Attitudes ARE changing. We all must be advocates, confronting people who make disparaging remarks, spreading the word that calling someone “retarded” is not acceptable. I think the best approach, however, relates to Embry’s comment. Introduce our family members and friends who have disabilities to others; see that they are involved in the community. Insist that they are respected – the better “R” word.

View Kristofferson’s Video here.

3 Responses to “Revision of the "R" Word”

  1. Mary Says:

    Excellent points! This movement is a reminder to all of us to speak with and of each other with care, to uplift each other rather than to speak with ill intent — no matter what the particular words may be. Hear, hear, Dr. Jane!

  2. Courtney Says:

    I couldn’t agree more! This is a topic I am passionate about, but I must admit, in the last few days God has really convicted me of the same thing. I look down on people who use the R word, and many others. She is a liar, he is a hypocrite, she is so self- centered, selfish, hateful, mean spirited… the list goes on and on. It is really no different. I hope we can all learn to look at each other as Christ looks at us, with love and acceptance.

  3. Jane Schulz Says:

    Thank you for your relevant, helpful comments. This is a challenge (and a possible victory) for all of us.

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