Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Quiz: Do you get why this word hurts so much?


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...
a) Loser
b) Pathetic
c) Uncool
d) Stupid
e) Clueless
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?
a) Nope
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.

ANSWER KEY

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.

85 comments:

  1. Thank you for this. I wish many more people could understand how hurtful this word is.

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  2. Love the quiz. It's perfect.

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  3. Awesome, awesome, awesome video you put together of Max!!! Very inspiring.

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  4. Great blog, I think the biggest thing we as parents can do is spread the importance of being aware of what our words mean to others. We have a certain role in defining the future of how kids treat each other.

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  5. R-word officially out of our lexicon (do I get bonus points for using the word lexicon)?

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    1. Yes! 100 bonus points! And, thanks, Nicole.

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    2. It's been deleted from mine also. Now I advocate against the use of "The Word". Thank you for bringing awareness to an area where people don't think much about the effect of what they say.

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  6. Thank you, from me and my daughter Rachel.

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  7. Bravo! I think people also need to understand that "moron' and 'imbecile' have similar impacts.

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    1. First let me say I agree with movement of Spread the Word to End the Word, but I am wondering how far you would argue it should go? Would you argue that we eliminate all words that have the meaning "stupid"? Foolish has similar roots, just further back historically; and the argument could be made for many negative terms.

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    2. I think a lot of people aren't aware that "moron" and "imbecile" were ever clinical terms - I wasn't until I had the chance to look at a medical textbook from the 1940's. So it's a bit of a different context.

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  8. Great post! It seems like many people don't know this, but Spread the Word to End the Word is actually a partnership between Best Buddies and Special Olympics! Just a point of reference! Thanks for your awesome writing, I love your blog!

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  9. This was a wonderful post and thanks for the videos you posted. This will help spread the word that it is not okay to use this types of words! I also like the example of Spread the word to End the word. Great post!

    Sylvia

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  10. Beautiful post. Shared it on my FB page.

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  11. Thank you! (FYI I don't know if your link to the pledge is working for others but it didn't work for me.)

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    1. Just saw a tweet: The r-word.org site is temporarily down due to heavy volume of users, should be up soon.

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  12. You rock at being able to oh so clearly articulate why that word is so hurtful. Thanks for giving me all the words I need to share it with my peeps :-)

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  13. Thank you so much! ♥

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  14. Fantastic entry Ellen, thank you for taking the time to post something that WILL make a difference.

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  15. Wow. I saw this shared on FB by a friend. I was honestly, up until about 3 minutes ago, one of those people who was simply indifferent to the word. I used it, not all the time, but here and there...to describe someone I thought was being idiotic, an unfair situation, etc etc etc.

    This article was so simple....so direct.....and SO effective!

    Thank you. For opening my eyes to something I was ignorant about and rather ambivalent about. Thank you for opening my eyes and helping me to see how simple it is to be sensitive. Just because it doesn't offend me, per-se, doesn't mean it doesn't hurt someone else. And for some reason, that never really sunk in until just now.

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  16. Love, love, love this. Especially love the video. I'm going to share it on my Facebook page. You are awesome. Seriously.

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    1. Shared here: http://www.facebook.com/FindingNinee and I'm going to tweet it now. You rock.

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  17. As someone with a physical disability who has above average smarts I have to say the mark has been missed a little during this whole movement. The entire reason WHY the "r-word" is so offensive is it's becauue it's uses to negatively describe people with ALL DISABILITIES, physical, emotional AND mental.
    Put it in different terms it is pretty much accepted the "n-word" is the most offensive name to call a black person! We all agree it's offensive and shouldn't be used,that's not the point. However offensive it is, IT'S NOT A LIE, ALL BLACK people are indeed the "N-word", there's no debate here.
    Nobody should use either word, yet the "R-word" is vastly behind the "N-word" from becomeing unacceptable langauge. I truly believe we are making good strides to remove the "r-word" from everyday vocabulary, I feel my statement above will get us there quicker.

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  18. Roeann Ryan Hensley (Gary-Cooper's Mom)March 6, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    Well this one certainly hits home, I've been trying to think of ways to let people know this work is so very hurtful, now it's done ! Thank-you.........

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  19. Love this post! Thanks for it!

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  20. As to using an epithet that makes fun of someone who's paralyzed--well, yes, that happens. "She's such a spazz!" No doubt this word is used much less frequently than the r-word, how about putting that on the (x)-word list too?

    A little more compassion, consideration, and humanity for everybody, and the world will be a better place.

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    1. Ellen also mentioned that deaf people aren't made fun of-- not true! "What, are you deaf?" is used a LOT. But it is true that it isn't used in the way "retarded" is- i.e. "That's SO deaf!" Agreed with spazz- it should definitely not be used. I go by a general rule of, "If I was standing by someone with a physical or mental disability, would I want to say this?" Saying "I'm so spazzy" around a person with, say, CP would be awkward and therefore I do not use the word, period.

      TERRIFIC POST, ELLEN!! Fantastic job- if anyone tries to argue with me about using "retarded" as a form of free speech, I will refer them here for a "quiz!"

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  21. I love the woman who said she doesn't have down syndrome she has up syndrome.

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  22. Bravo! BRAVO, Ellen! I stood up & cheered when I read this powerful post. I pray that it will have that sort of impact on EVERYONE who reads it.

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  23. The problem with this movement, as I see it, is that language evolves, and this movement is trying to stifle that evolution. Words that once meant something derogatory towards people lose their meaning over time. Why are people who are so against the word 'retard' not similarly outraged by the words 'dumb' and 'idiot?' Those words used to be clinical diagnoses that meant largely the same thing as "mentally retarded." Why is there no campaign to wipe those words from the American lexicon? Because it's understood that they no longer carry much weight. The same is happening to 'retard,' and will continue to happen if you would let it.

    It seems to me that the only people trying to label disabled people are the ones trying to wipe out this word. It is YOU who are insisting that this word applies to certain people, when society in general is actually starting to categorize it more like "idiot" and "dumb." While those aren't very nice things to call someone, they're also not particularly hurtful unless you allow them to be. In your crusade, you are committing the offense you're imploring others not to. It does not empower anyone. How can you empower someone when you seek to make a world that doesn't hurt their feelings, simply because it hurts yours? The simple truth is that we don't get very far in trying to change the world to suit our desires.

    I forget what it's called, but there's a fable where a king tells his assistant that he wants all his kingdom carpeted with the finest skins because the hard ground offends his feet. His assistant, realizing this is the wrong way to accomplish the king's intent (which is to soothe his feet), convinces the king instead to put small pieces of skin on everyone's feet, rather than carpeting the entire kingdom. The goal is accomplished much more practically by giving each individual the small piece of skin to protect his or her own feet.

    If you want to empower your kids, you teach them that words only have the power we, as individuals, grant to them. The words "I'm offended" imply the inability to control one's emotions. Teach your kids that they have the POWER to choose how certain words make them feel. If you try to wipe out a word because it offends you, you are handing over YOUR power to that word, and no word should have power over any human being.

    This is coming from someone who was tormented by words throughout his childhood. I've been called every name in the book. It wasn't until I realized that I had the power, not the words, that I stopped letting those words hurt me.

    The sad reality is that focusing on the word by trying to eradicate it only prolongs that word's strength. If we stop trying to do the impossible thing of eradicating words we find repugnant and instead stop granting those words power, they will fade into the background of our language and become, if not forgotten, then completely impotent.

    It is impossible to eradicate a word. It is entirely possible to steal that word's power for yourself.

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    1. "It is impossible to eradicate a word. It is entirely possible to steal that word's power for yourself."

      The best you can reply with is "moron". Do you realize how ridiculous you look?

      It has been proven through out time that words do not go away, they can only lose relevance and meaning.

      I agree we need to take the power of the word away, but sticking our fingers in our ears and pretending it doesn't exist is making things worse.

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    2. Perhaps. But focusing on the word does no better. Look at the N word- not only does it still exist, but it is more racially charged than it ever has been, simply because of the focus that has been put on it.

      There seems to be somewhat of a disconnect between the word and the behavior context in which it's used. People are ascribing attributes to the word that really belong to the intention of the person using it.

      The word itself is nothing more than a noise we make with our mouths. This is important. Seriously, say the word 'donkey' over and over again to yourself sometime and just try to keep yourself from laughing. Do the same with the word retard, and you'll end up with the same result. It's just a sound, and a pretty silly one at that.

      What we should be focusing on is the behavior in which someone uses words as weapons. The words themselves are irrelevant- it is the intent we should be focusing on. When the intent to hurt someone with the word is gone, the word no longer has any power.

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    3. Amen. This is what I was trying to say.

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  24. Unfortunately, there still are medical diagnoses that use that word. I'm thinking specifically of WAGR syndrome. It is still a terminology that is used by the World Health Organization currently as well.
    Interestingly, the word was actually put in place to replace terms previously used that were also considered offensive and derogatory: (moron, imbecile and idiot).
    I'm NOT advocating that the word should be used. What I'm trying to get across is that it's more than just words; it's people's attitudes and behaviours and intentions when using words.
    We can keep changing words, but if people don't change their reasonings for using words (i.e., are they purposely using words to imply an insult), then it won't be long before the new words themselves become offensive (and hurtful).

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    1. "Interestingly, the word was actually put in place to replace terms previously used that were also considered offensive and derogatory: (moron, imbecile and idiot)."

      Exactly. The word itself not the problem.

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  25. In a perfect world we'd all be dead and NOBODY would be offended by ANYTHING. As Anonymous intimated, there are serious CONTROL issues behind the use, and non-use, of ANY word in ANY language. I'd be more concerned about how humans ACT in or out of concert with "language" toward the disabled, the least fortunate, the dying, and the truly helpless than I would be with their lexicon, having been acquainted with too many morons who beat their women like a base drum while calling them "Honey".

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  26. The only way to make a change is through awareness and education. Thank you for doing so thoughtfully, skillfully and intelligently. Hopefully all our kids will be in a world without such thoughtless hateful words.
    God bless.

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  27. We had our school assembly on Friday about Spread The Word To End the Word.(the school would only agree to it on a friday)And the results rocked! There were no problems(besides learning the IPads and Microphones dont like to coperate together and that there is a challenge getting upperclassmen to listen to freshmen)But all of our hard work paid off! who cares if it was 4 days early
    By the way Ellen this marks the second anaversiry scince I found your blog.
    Dont use the R word it hurts and if you think the person it is dericted at cant understand think again I have seen a nonverbal teenager fly around in her seat, and get very mad when called a retard. In 2nd grade when I was first called a retard I burst into tears in the middle of gym.(Yes I remeber it 7 years later I can even tell you the date May 5th)

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  28. I hope this doesn't come across poorly, but I genuinely want to know. What is the correct term for fire-retardant materials? What about the retarded potential of electromagnetic fields?

    I understand this is intended for insensitive people that use a perfectly acceptable word in a bad context. My one issue is how people have bastardized a wonderful description into a slur.

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    1. I think it's okay as long as you're not using it to describe people/medical conditions, or in the derogatory sense Ellen described. Hey, in French "retard" is a word used for lateness in general, nobody's asking them to stop.

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    2. Thank you Rachael :)

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    3. I agree. No one would object to it being used in scientific terms. I use the words retard and retarded all the time when talking about engine mapping/ignition timing. It's the correct term to use.

      I think anyone who objects to that sort of use really needs to expand their horizons..

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    4. Rachael, I like your French reference. In England, a fag is a cigarette. In Spanish, negro is a color. There's an additive I use with acrylic paints that gives me more open work time and the bottle loudly proclaims 'retards dry time'. My kid's pi's have tags that say 'flame-retardant'. There's a musical term written into sheet music that is called a 'retard', it means to slow down the tempo. I freely call it what it is when discussing music. I cannot agree with banning the word altogether.

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  29. As a mother of a disabled child i have had the unfortunate experiences of having the word used hatefully twds him as well as people using the word as much as using the word "the". It hurts and has literally drove me to the point of anger to where i become very nasty. Think of others. We dont realize words do indeed hurt

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  30. Thank you! A well written post/quiz.

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  31. OK You PC Nazi's...We live in a Country that to the best of my knowledge still has Freedom of Speech...You may not like someone elses choice of words or beliefs but it is their right as american...We do Not live in a Group Think society where everybody has to think the same way..Get over it.
    RETARD RETARD RETARD!!!!!!
    GO BUNCH OF NAZI'S




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    1. Yes it is also Ellen's right to promote disability awareness how would you feel if it was you with the impairments and someone said that.

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    2. It is also her right to promote respect for people with disabilities. Slurs are hurtful, demeaning, and not much else. I don't want PI Nazis to promote their use and use freedom of speech as an excuse for doing so. I value freedom of speech, but there are boundaries to it. We live in a country where all people are valued and vocabulary that demeans others should be avoided.

      (PI stands for Politically Incorrect)

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  32. GET OVER IT...IF YOUR CHILD IS A 'TARD, THEY'RE A 'TARD...THATS LIFE!!!!!

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    1. She wants what every mother wants for their child: success.

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  33. HeartThanks, dear Ellen! Your video made me cry. Your children are beautiful, and so are you! With a HeartFull of gratitude for all the Gold you spread over this Universe, CherylFaith, Robin, & Leo (9)

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  34. Beautifully written. Thank you. And I shouldn't have read these comments. I don't get how people can read what you said and still be so stinking mean. Thank you for putting yourself out there and for articulating this so well.

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  35. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and my son's! Thank you for creating this very powerful quiz and video. And thank you Jane Lynch for speaking out as a celebrity and making a difference in the lives of those whose voices have been oppressed for so long.

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  36. Ah, this old post again...

    Well, as a disabled person I choose to call myself what I like. This includes reclaiming the world "cripple" and "spastic" and using them as a form of power instead of oppression. I feel this is the correct approach rather than trying to get rid of a word, which is simply never going to happen. After all, people can hardly make fun of you using those words if you use them yourself first. I am a "crip" and a "spaz" and proud of that.

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    1. Exactly: you CHOOSE to call yourself what you like. You have CHOSEN to reclaim these words for yourself. Similarly, I call myself queer; I've made the decision to reclaim this slur to describe my sexuality. However, I would never apply the word "queer" to anyone who didn't first apply it to themselves. While I may see the word as empowering, it still backs a powerful punch of hurt for many, many people in my community. It was used to degrade and dehumanize us, and still is. If anyone outside of my community called me queer as an insult, or used that word or "gay" as slurs around me, I would take serious exception. It's MY word, not theirs. The only people who can reclaim a slur are those who it has been used to oppress. So if a person with an intellectual disability told me that they wanted to be called a r*tard, r*tarded, or a person with r*tardation, I would acquiesce to their request (though doing so would make me deeply uncomfortable). However, all of the self advocates I have spoken to, and all of the self advocates who have spoken out about this issue, are STRONGLY against the 'r' word being used in any capacity. That has been their choice, though it may not be yours. Again, if a person with an ID chooses reclamation I will honor their personal identity; but it's just that -- a PERSONAL identity. It's not for you to reclaim this word for them.

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    2. I never said it was my place to reclaim the world for them, so you basically just wrote that whole rant out for nothing.

      I was just explaining how words used to oppress can equally be used to empower. Regardless of whether choose to label themselves "retarded" (by the way, why do you block a letter out when that's what you mean and people read it as?), people also CHOOSE to get offended at the use of these sorts of words. I have had strangers call me a cripple and a spastic but what reason do I have to get offended when I see it as an empowering term? None.

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    3. "I feel this is the correct approach rather than trying to get rid of a word, which is simply never going to happen. After all, people can hardly make fun of you using those words if you use them yourself first."

      You literally said that the "correct approach" to oppressive language is to reclaim it (as you have)...or laugh at them, which, given the fact that people with intellectual disabilities have been the butt of dehumanizing "humor" for centuries, seems like a particularly cruel and insensitive suggestion. You say "words used to oppress can equally be used to empower": if you actually read my response, you'll see that I agree, to a point. Once again, while I have taken a word used to oppress me and used it to empower me instead, I don't (as you clearly did) make value judgments about those who are not empowered by that word. My "rant" was simply a suggestion that you extend those seeking to eradicate the r-word instead of embracing it the same courtesy. (Also, asterisking oppressive language is kind of social justice 101...)

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    4. You act like I am some outsider who knows nothing about living as a disabled person, lol. As if I have never been dehumanised because of my own disabilities. I never said to laugh at anyone. I was merely stating that it's sometimes beneficial to make fun of oneself because it takes away the power of others to make fun; I've tried it myself, and yes it may not work for other people but clearly outlawing the use of a word is not working either.

      Fact is that people can choose to get offended by it or they can find some other way to deal with it. You can sit on your high horse and pass judgements about me apparently making judgements, but that's what it comes down to. If people want to waste their energy being offended instead of putting energy into changing attitudes in other ways that is not my problem.

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  37. Well written! I correct my middle school students all the time about this word. And when they do use it I remind them that it is not only an ugly word but that it is harmful to me and my child. When I bring up my child their attitudes quickly change and that word has been slowly diminishing from my room.

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  38. When Ann Coulter referred to President Obama as "the retard" she was merely exemplifying a core republican principle "I'm more prosperous than the majority of society so boo hoo for the rest of you who got the short straw in life - that's not MY problem".

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  39. I believe all this political correctness is retarding us as a society, as in slowing down our progress. That is what "retarded" means, to be slow, behind, etc. When I set the timing on my vehicles engine, I can either advance or retard the timing. To retard it is to make it behind TDC. People with mental disabilities are slow, or behind the normal, therefore retarded mentally. I agree with the people that say you are giving the word power by trying to erase it. Heck, I'm white, but feel guilty about calling a black person black. That is what they are if I am white. I know very few "African Americans," meaning people who are now American citizens whom emigrated from Africa.

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  40. A long time ago, when I was a kid, I had a neighbor and friend with an intellectual disability. One day I told her she was retarded. I will never forget the look of hurt on her face and how angry she became. I regretted using the word immediately. It had been my father who told me that she was retarded. I did not know it was wrong to say until it was too late. So it is important for parents and all adults to model good behavior for their kids.

    I have new neighbors that are very frustrating. Very rude and loud and dirty. I have spoken with them many times and they say they will change but then they don't. I referred to them as "retarded" but now I see that was wrong to. I wont be using that word again.

    Thank you!

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    1. It's good to know that you repented and changed your ways.

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  41. I really get why it hurts some people already think people like me are dumb, slow and incompetent and that word only perpetuates that sort of thinking I no longer say the word and I asked my sister not to say it either.

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  42. Thank you for the supportive comments, to all the other parents out there who wrote amazing posts, and to those of you who get it (and who care enough to get it). I'm leaving the ignorant/jerk-y comments up here to inspire people to keep right on advocating! As I've said before, I choose to pity the haters. What sad lives they must live; you can't hate like that and be a happy person, can you?

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  43. first time commenter long time reader. I would LOVE to say the pledge is going to work and I just HATE people who use the word retard it's like saying "your a retard and I'm better than you" When your not. Thank you very much for putting this and for making this pledge thank you very very very very very very much.

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  44. I am getting so tired of that word THE PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES CANT HELP IT!!! THEY WERE BORN THAT WAY !!! THEY ARE UNIQUELY BE.U.TITUFUL

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  45. so tired of the politically correct garbage. I won't stop using the word in it's proper context because someone else has a perception of what the word means. I agree that the word is derogatory and should not be used to describe a child with Ds. But please, take it down a notch.

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  46. Why even say intellectual disability? That is very insulting and hurtful even though it describes a specific condition. I like the word special needs instead because it doesn't come out sounding like a siren for judgement. For the people that want to continue spewing hate through words, just remember you will get back what you put out;KARMA. Oh, and no one cares what haters think. Even though we have free speech, we should all be kind to each other because life is way too short. Anyone of us could become suddenly incapacitated, so it's best to treat others as you would like to be treated. Everyone has a purpose here on Earth and everyone counts equally as important no matter how it seems. Peace.

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  47. This campaign IS about censorship and political correctness. There's NO doubt about that. That being said, I use a approach I find more appropriate. Its called the person by person, context by context approach. It ACTUALLY gets a discussion about the context going.

    YES Linda you said what I was thinking- its pc and needs to tone down. Anon- you either believe in FS or you dont. Stop twisting the concept around and being a total hypocrite.
    Sparkie well I'm tired of people like you who are politically obsessed over sensitive and NEED to calm down. There's a saying a word is a word EVEN if it hurts.

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  48. Wow!!! Very good article... I used to use this word a lot in my teen years and now in my 30s i done believe i use it. I receny had a discussion with someone who didnt recognize how hurtful the R word is. This article helped me further defend reasons to stop using that R word and also to do a self examination and completely delete that word from my vocab

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  49. I understand most of this, and I try not to use the word retarded incorrectly. However, some points you made are strait up false. Most prominently, #6, in which you stated that you would not "make fun of" someone who was deaf or paralyzed, and this is true, but it is not really related to this, as the incorrect use of retarded is not making fun of retarded people, nor is it meant to, although it does offend them. However, when looking at your point in this context, is not true that you wouldn't use a word like deaf incorrectly. Like if someone didn't hear you after you say something a few times, a common response might be to say "are you deaf?" Is this necessarily a right thing to say? No. But it is something people say.

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    1. Yes. And people say, "What, are you blind??" And people say, "paralyzed with fear" when a temporary freezing of the limbs does not even begin to describe what a paralyzed person lives with. It's not used to make fun, it's an adjective. Insensitive? Maybe. Especially in the presence of a blind/deaf/paralyzed person. Should we ban all those words? No.

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  50. Dear teenagers who think the word “retarded” is funny,
    You are wrong. Have you ever heard the phrase “put yourself into their shoes”? You should go look it up, because you’re obviously too ignorant to understand.
    I have an older brother, Ryan, who is considered developmentally disabled. He has cerebral palsy and hemiparesis and it affects him every day. I remember in high school when Ryan was a senior and I was a freshmen. My sister had just graduated and luckily I came in right after she left. I understood that Ryan was bullied for his disabilities, but not to the extent I thought. I sat with him at lunch, disappointed to see that nobody else would, I talked with him about his day, and then we both had one class together: introduction to digital technology. Our teacher knew us from elementary school and made sure to keep us separated in class so we wouldn’t argue; we are siblings after all. Two of my friends that I sat next to the entire year didn’t even know Ryan was my brother until one of them made a comment. “He’s so retarded!” she laughed as she looked over at him; while I responded in the calmest way I could: “That’s my brother; and yes, he’s mentally disabled. But he’s still a person, so don’t say that crap about him”. I knew I had lost a friend immediately. She made fun of my brother for something he couldn’t control, and for the first time, I put myself in his shoes. I cried just thinking about what he’s had to endure all during high school, and I had only witnessed the smallest of incidences.
    Ryan got made fun of on a daily basis, was bullied all throughout school, and missed those important moments that every teen should experience. He didn’t go to prom or all the football games or many school functions in general. My biggest worry is that he won’t find love. Being mentally disabled, it’s not easy to find someone who understands you. The only love he has experienced is the love my family has provided him with.
    Just imagine going through that. No friends, no boyfriend or girlfriend, no dances, no sports, no activities or clubs, and on top of all that, you have people stare at you everywhere you go and are constantly pointed at and made fun of. Because of something you had no control over, you have no life. But the thing is that most of you can’t, or refuse to, put yourself in those shoes. Those shoes.. you’ll never be able to fill them. You would never be able to endure that torture every damn day of your life. You’re that kid who calls your friends “retarded” and laughs it off every time.
    So ask yourself these questions: “Could I endure what Ryan went through for the rest of my life? Do I want other people pointing and laughing at me? Do disabled people deserve to be laughed at and made fun of?” If you answered no to any of these questions, then you need to rethink how you treat those around you, and think about what you’re saying before you say it. Wonder if what you’re going to say would hurt someone around you. If you answered yes to any of those questions, especially the last one, you need to call your parents right now and tell them what a disappointment you grew up to be, because you are wrong in the worst way possible.
    Sincerely,
    Lauren McMillan

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    1. Very well said!! Your brother is lucky to have a sister like you:))

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  51. Out of our 5 kids, I have one child diagnosed with autism & another with a learning impairment. So, I come from a place of sensitivity and wanting to protect my kids, just like you. But my thinking is different. I don't think we need to erase the word, just the association with describing true special needs individuals. Then, if people use it in a joking manner, it is no more offensive than stupid, dork, derf, idiot, etc.

    The generation of parents coming up in this age does not use the word retarded to mean anything other than ding-dong, idiotic, or stupid. I've never associated 'retarded' with my kids, or with special needs, and neither do they. My mother's generation & before certainly does, however. I find the word 'retarded' slips out of my mouth in seriousness only when describing impaired individuals who are older, because I mentally link it to my mother who is older and she would use the same language. I can change my language and let that trend die with me and never pass it on. The fact that it is now clinically incorrect may also persuade my mother, who was a nurse. I'll pass that info along to her next time we talk, so thank you for that!

    I've tried to work it out of my vocabulary as a joking word out of respect to the wishes of others. Maybe 'retarded' needs to die a linguistic death & become inappropriate like 'negro' & 'pickaninny'. But unlike those other words (unless you habla espanol, in which case negro means the color black & it will not likely ever leave the language) 'retarded' has other applications.

    It shows up on my bottle of paint thinner, for example. It 'retards the drying time' for paint.

    My concern is Fahrenheit 451: ban, ban, ban! What are we going to do when we hear someone jokingly say, "oh, lol, you're such a dork, totally mentally impaired, I can't believe you just did that stupid thing, hahaha!" Are we going to change our diagnostic language from mentally impaired, mental disability, etc. to something else?

    Frequently, we hear people say, "Well aren't you SPECIAL!" You know they are referring to 'special needs', right? No social outcry about the word "special", though.

    My sister in law (who is mentally healthy, as far as I know) hates to be called crazy. Should we ban the word crazy? What about the legions of truly mentally ill 'crazy' people out there? Aren't they offended?

    I'll try not to use 'crazy' when I talk to my sister in law because I love her, but I'm not planning on campaigning to eliminate the word from Webster's. Just like I don't feed my husband peas because he hates them. I still eat peas. Peas should not be banned. That would be crazy!!

    Think about if the sensitivity is yours, or your kids. Will it be an issue for the future? Will your kids even know it's derogatory toward them unless you make it a big deal & color their thinking with it? Or can we just let it die a quiet, ignored death and swear not to pass on our prejudices against hearing that word? Will talking about it ensure that it lives on?

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Thanks for sharing!