Monday, August 3, 2015

Americans still don't get why the word "retard" hurts

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?


  1. People who use the R-word need to get a dictionary.

  2. I loathe that word, always have. Recently, we had my husband's twin and four of his kids over to celebrate my husband and his twin's birthday. The seven of us sat around the table, playing a card game new to my nieces and nephews. Every once in a while, one of my nieces or nephews would make a mistake (easy to do in that game), and another would respond by thumping the side of his hand against his chest or throwing out the word R word. I was appalled. I would think of all people, this set would know how painful that word is. Their oldest sibling has a severe form of autism and barely speaks or functions. Basically, he's the kind of young man (he's 23) whom I am sure has had that word thrown at him often, and here his siblings were using it freely. It made my blood boil. I usually say something to someone who uses that word by I was too in shock to say anything. :(

    Here's how to be proactive!

  4. Well, we in germany tend to use the word monstrosity or freak as an insult or slang. We dont really mean it and just use it as a sub. I dont know about the word retard and I can care less cause words just pass through my brain. since i tend to ignore people :P


Thanks for sharing!

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