Today, The New York City Council will introduce a bill to banish the use of the words "mentally retarded" from official documents and sites and instead use "developmentally disabled," the local news reported. As Councilman David Greenfield noted, "People use it in an insulting way."
The move is in line with New York state and federal law governments, which changed the term in 2010 (for info on where your state stands, check this page on Spread the Word To End The Word). Comments I saw last night on CBS New York ran the usual gamut:
Inevitable comment from someone who thinks he's being brilliantly funny by using the word: "That's retarded."
Inevitable comment from someone who believes people are being too p.c.: "How sad...while we are dedicating our time to being politically correct and not offend anyone, places like Japan are testing out Maglev trains and running bullet trains going over 200 mph.... Thanks for making political correctness a big priority here in the states, RETARDS."
Inevitable comment from person who gets it: "Some of you people are just plain IGNORANT and RUDE."
Inevitable comment from person who thinks they are Merriam-Webster: "The word 'retard' is not derogatory in all context."
Inevitable comment from person with special needs who's been hurt by the word: "You people can joke about this all you want, but it's not funny. I had a speech impediment and I was relentlessly teased in middle school."
The truth is that, like Max, many kids and adults who suffer the consequences can't speak up for themselves. As his mom, it pains me—and many parents of kids with disabilities—to hear the word retard freely tossed around. So I'll say it again (and again), for Max's sake and others': Even if you aren't using the word to directly insult a person with intellectual disability, you're spreading the idea that people with ID are stupid, pathetic, losers and just plain uncool. As if kids like my son don't already have enough social challenges to overcome.
People can cry freedom of speech, people can take the stance that other insulting words will come along to take the place of "retard" and "retarded." I say, please use another word that doesn't demean people with disabilities—and use these initiatives as jumping-off points for conversations about respect and equality for people with special needs.
Image: Poster by graphic designer Alison Rowan