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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

R Word Awareness Day

Today is the annual day of awareness to end the usage of the r-word (retard/retarded).

There are a lot of things you can do to help this clean-mouthed cause. 43 states have amended their laws to use terms like intellectual disability instead of mental retardation. While that is a ginormous step in the right direction, that means that 7 states have not made these extremely important changes yet! The R-Word organization suggests that if you live in Colorado, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, or Oklahoma, you should contact your state representatives here and tell them:

As a constituent of [your state], I demand respect and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities and I encourage you to introduce a measure to change the state’s official language from ‘mental retardation’ to ‘people with intellectual disabilities’.

Another way you can help spread awareness of this issue is by taking the pledge to spread the word to end the word here.

The R-Word has pretty much the same philosophy as Bleep!: "This campaign isn't about limiting speech, it's quite the opposite. We respect your right to say anything you want, but we ask that you recognize that words can be hurtful and they do matter - choose to use words that are less hurtful."


  1. What form of the word "retarded" should be used? It is used colloquially to mean either (a) people with an "intellectual disability" as you said, a mental impairment (mental retardation) or as (b) a derogatory term used as a synonym for "stupid" or "ridiculous".

    By allowing for both definitions, we blur the distinction between people suffering from a legitimate mental condition with stupidity or disgust. Associating the two gives mental retardation negative connotations.

    However, what is the purpose of abolishing both forms of the word? If any time a technical medical condition became culturally synonymous with negative terms we were to abolish the technical definition, language would constantly change and the linguistic ambiguities could create larger issues of medical identification. Taking away the word "retardation" as a medical definition (its original meaning) is validating the common usage of the word and acknowledging its second definition.

    To stop calling homosexual individuals "gay" because some people use the term to mean weak, stupid, or inferior would be ridiculous. The word has a significant meaning as a form of identity, is used by homosexuals as a reference point, and creating a new word or term would just lead to the colloquialization and crudification of these terms.
    Succumbing to derogatory definitions instead of combating them is not the approach; instead, maintaining culturally and medically significant terms (do not assume that I am defining gay as a medical condition or disability - far from it) and combating their casual usages is the answer.

  2. You bring up very good, valid points. Thank you for your thoughtful insights on this matter.

    In the olden days, people who were mentally challenged were medically called "idiots" and "morons" and the like. Clearly, saying that nowadays would be absolutely unacceptable. I think it's the same story with the word "retarded." And if necessary, with the word "gay."