It started with an experiment where I tracked the word "retard" on Twitter and asked people to reconsider using it. And I've continued to speak out about the r-word and how offensive it is, as have many parents of kids with special needs and others. It's been gratifying to hear people say that they have quit using that word. It's been hard to hear people staunchly defending their use of it or getting into passionate diatribes about semantics and freedom of speech. Sometimes, it seems as if the word might be engraved on people's tombstones, so fond of it are they: Here lies Cassie, devoted mother, loving wife, advocate for the word "retard."
Today is the fifth annual day of awareness for Spread The Word To End The Word, a campaign created by the Special Olympics. To illuminate why the word is so demeaning, why parents take it so personally and why this isn't just about a word, I put together a little quiz I hope you'll share. The prize for acing it: a lifetime supply of compassion, consideration and soul.
1. The word "retard" is another word for...
f) All of the above
2. The phrase "That's retarded!" basically means...
a) "That's uncool"
b) "That's ignorant"
c) "That's ridiculous"
d) "That's pointless"
e) All of the above
3. And now, a three-step exercise. First, read this paragraph:
When Ann Coulter referred to President Obama as "the retard" in a tweet last October, Special Olympics athlete/global messenger John Franklin Stephens wrote an open letter to her. In it he said, "I'm a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public's perception that an intellectual disability means I'm dumb and shallow.... After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me. You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult...."
Then watch this video:
Then answer this question:
If people with intellectual disability are offended by the word and consider it a slur, it's better not to use the word, right?
a) I don't agree.
b) I think I'm starting to get it.
4. True or False:
• "Mental retardation" was once a clinical diagnosis. When the words "retard" and "retarded" became derogatory slang, however, modern-day organizations, doctors and schools quit using that diagnosis.
• In 2010, Congress dropped the terms "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" in federal health, education and labor laws and replaced them with "intellectual disability"—and 43 states have passed similar legislation.
• I am a clever person who can come up with plenty of other words to use besides "retard" and "retarded" and "tard."
5. Logic section!
IF you had a child with intellectual disability, and you wanted to empower this child in a world where there is real stigma against people with disabilities, and you pray that he'll never feel like a lesser human being for having disabilities, MIGHT you want people to avoid using a word that perpetuates negative stereotypes?
b) I get it, I get it
6. If you're not yet convinced, consider this: You wouldn't make fun of someone who was deaf or paralyzed—or use their disabilities as insults, would you? As in, you'd never say "Oh, my boss is such a quadriplegic!" So then...
a) It makes sense not to slam people with intellectual disability by using "retard" as a synonym for "loser"
b) I'm still not convinced
7. OK, then try this fill-in-the-blank sentence where you replace "retard" with another word, and see how it feels:
"She is such a [insert your name/your partner's name/your child's name/your mother's name] for dropping her iPhone out the car window!"
8. If you still insist it's fine to use the word as long as you are not actually making fun of a person with intellectual disability, then you are:
a) Missing the point
b) Missing the point
c) Missing the point
d) All of the above
9. In the last couple of years, when celebs and other well-knowns have dropped the r-bomb, some have publicly apologized. Take Lady Gaga, who used the word "retarded" in an interview then issued a statement that said "I consider it part of my life's work and music to push the boundaries of love and acceptance. My apologies for not speaking thoughtfully...."
This is a sign that:
a) These celebs feel badly
b) Their publicists have told them to feel badly
c) The word is a slur, so publicists consider it important enough to issue statements
d) Lady Gaga should do a song about why the word sucks
e) All of the above
10. This whole thing about people speaking out about the r-word: Is it about censorship, political correct-ness or freedom of speech? Or is it really about consideration, dignity and respect for people with intellectual disability?
a) It's really about consideration, dignity and respect for people with disability.
Do the decent thing and use a word that doesn't insult people with disability, demean them and pain those who love them.
Extra credit: Watch this video, take this pledge.