It’s exclusive, offensive, derogatory, disheartening, hateful and worst of all — it’s spreading.
The word “retarded” — once used as a clinical description — has become a slur and a term of derision. Used in conversation and on social media, television and movies, the R-word is now synonymous with the words “dumb” and “stupid” and dehumanizes people with intellectual disabilities.
Many people do not consider the consequences of using the R-word, but those three syllables can tear someone down who does nothing but live their life to the fullest.
According to a report by journalist Maria Shriver, 89 percent of Americans think it is offensive to use the word “retarded” toward someone with a clear intellectual disability. But 56 percent of Americans also feel it is not offensive to refer to oneself as “retarded” when they make a mistake, and 38 percent of Americans feel it is not offensive to call a friend “retarded” when they do something foolish.
The use of the R-word seems to start in middle school, during those awkward years of finding friends and the need for validation from others. But regardless of when this trend started — and how these stereotypes developed — society must put a stop to it.
Because words have immense power to destroy or empower an individual, society must begin changing its views on the R-word. It is about encouraging others to think before they speak about individuals with disabilities.
Many people will respond to a simple reminder to not use the word. Using people-first language is another way to show acceptance. Focusing on the person — and not their disability — helps to spread positivity in our society and dispels negative attitudes, stigmas and stereotypes.
The “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign provides a forum for community members to share their stories and shed light on the way media uses the R-word in a negative connotation. The youth-led program promotes education of person-first language and changes the way we use our words in everyday life.
The campaign gives step-by-step instructions on how to approach others who use the R-word. Because the conversations can be uncomfortable, this campaign suggests tips in dialogue scenarios to help us successfully articulate why the R-word is hurtful in everyday speech.
There are ways we can get involved in ending the word. Being politically active, sharing messages on social media or volunteering with organizations such as Best Buddies or the Special Olympics are just a few ways to raise awareness.
In any setting, in any situation, we must be conscious of the words we use to describe individuals with disabilities. Only through the education of others — and through words of positivity and acceptance — will we, as a society, ultimately end the word.