Like many parents of kids with intellectual disability, over the years I've repeatedly explained why the words "retard" and "retarded" are offensive to people with ID and those who love them. My friends and family understand. Strangers in social media, not so much. It's not just the expected haters, but the people who take the freedom-of-speech stand and those who just. don't. get. it.
That's become painfully clear, once again, with the recently released Shriver Report Snapshot: Insight into Intellectual Disabilities in the 21st Century, which surveyed 2,021 adults ages 18-plus in the United States. On the upside: Millennials (ages 18 to 34) are more likely than their older counterparts to know someone with an intellectual disability and have an understanding of what it means to have ID. Millennials are also open to having their children live near and go to school with people who have ID, and date and marry them, too.
Also gratifying: 89% of Americans agree that calling someone with Down syndrome or autism a "retard" is offensive. They even find it offensive if the word is directed at a stranger who does something foolish. And yet: 56% believe it's OK to describe themselves that way after making a mistake and 38% say it's fine to call a friend a "retard." The point that the words—no matter who they are directed toward—perpetuate negative stereotypes of people with ID is lost on them.
Four years ago, I did a Twitter experiment in which I tweeted at people using the hashtag "retard." The word seems to be less common on Twitter these days, but it's still being used in a derogatory way. A recent sampling:
I realize I lack objectivity, but still: How is it possible to argue that the word doesn't demean people with intellectual disability (once known by the old clinical "term mental retardation") when it's clear that people sub in "retard" and "retarded" as slang for stupid, incompetent, foolish, losers, lazy and worse?
Sometimes I tell people: Put the name of your partner/child/relative/friend in place of the word "retard." Do you get it now?
Cleveland Browns quarterback Joe Haden, the first NFL player to be a Special Olympics Global Ambassador, gets it. He has a younger brother with cognitive impairment, and has spoken out about the-word. As he told ESPN the other week, "Open up your vocabulary, people. The R-word is hurtful, hateful and ignorant. Like the N-word, it should not be part of our language."
Open up your vocabulary, people.
More about this:
Would you call my child a retard?
20 reasons to respect my child with special needs
Do you get why this word hurts so much?