Wednesday, March 1, 2017

You're not a retard, I'm not a libtard: Spread the Word to End the Word 2017

You're not a retard because you messed up.

You're not a loser.

You're not pathetic.

You're not klutzy.

You're not a joke.

You're not unable.

You're not lazy.

You're not incompetent.

You're not useless.

You're not a less-than.

I'm not a libtard for expressing my political views.

I'm not ignorant.

I'm not clueless.

I'm not deluded.

I'm not stupid.

You get it, right? 

Years ago, the terms "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" were medical terms for people with intellectual disability (ID). Then the words "retard" and "retarded" became insults. They are now considered slurs when they refer to people with ID—and derogatory when they are used as synonyms for people doing stupid stuff, because they perpetuate awful stereotypes. These words demean an entire population of people with intellectual disability. They insult my son Max, a bright, determined, full-of-potential boy who happens to have ID.

All this is why the Special Olympics started a grassroots campaign in 2009 to raise awareness. Today is the ninth annual Spread the Word To End The Word day of awareness.  

I think you get it.

Six years ago, I conducted an experiment on Twitter after being alarmed by the voluminous number of people using #retard as a hashtag—thousands a day. Many came from teens. I tweeted at strangers, said I was the mom of a child with disabilities and politely asked them not to use the word. I was largely greeted with ridicule and anger. I wrote about my disheartening experience here. A year later, I made a video, Would You Call My Child A Retard? It still seemed to be some people's favorite word in the history of words.

Yesterday, I searched Twitter to see how often the word "retard" was used within 24 hours. There were about 40 total mentions. The insult du jour is libtard (liberal + retard), yet even then, there were maybe 30 mentions of it. True, a lot of teens have switched from Twitter to Snapchat and Instagram, but there's still an overall major decline in the presence of the word on social media. I've personally heard less people saying it. That's progress. 

So here's what we also need to talk about.

Obviously, the word is still out there, online and in conversation. But then, at heart this effort has never been just about a word—it's about raising the bar of respect. It's about not pitying people with intellectual disability, seeing their abilities, accepting them and including them. 

If you've quit using the word or asked others to, thank you. Here are some more things you can do: Talk with people who have intellectual disability in a normal, natural way. Don't be afraid of saying the wrong thing; talk and act as you typically do. Speak with your children about those who have special needs. Find ways to involve their peers with ID in activities. In other words, treat adults, teens and kids with special needs like any adults, teens and kids.


Check out:


  1. I'm amazing that people (like good friend people) still say that word in front of me - a parent of a child with ID. It's still out there, but I hear it less every day. The end is coming. And I can't wait.

  2. I am very passionate about ending the use of this word. It hurts to your very core, I was 8 when I first heard it directed at me. Now 19 I still have to tell people not to use that word and educate them on why it is so harmful even when the context has nothing to do with disabilities. It's almost 11 years since I became aware of this word and I hope that in another 11 my advocacy work surrounding the word will be complete.

  3. This is totally something I can get behind. There is a woman at our church who uses this word all the time, when talking to me... right to my face. I'm like, "Do you know what you're saying, and who you're saying it to?" I just don't get that people are still that ignorant... totally spreading this around today!


  4. I correct this every single time I hear it. I'm a high school teacher and it still happens in my classes, thought less these days. The worst is hearing it from adults - sometimes educators! - who should know better!
    "Libtard" is a whole new wave. It angers me even more than the original, because it is used by trolls to bait those of us who are liberal-leaning and offended by the term "retard" into losing our shit (although for a good cause) and then they say "oh, that's not very kind/Liberal of you..."

    1. I hear all the time: it's a free country/free speech, I'm an adult, I can speak how I want, I don't mean it that way, and once was told to stop being the re***d police! Seriously?

  5. This word always bothered me even when I was a child. It's frustrating to hear it from adults. I own a clinic and we work with special needs children. I've unfortunately heard it in my own waiting room. Good article!

  6. Oh, and now you can add the f word to it and get a doubleheader of f***tard. People are absolutely cruel.


Thanks for sharing!

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