“Retarded” isn’t just a word

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Multiple emotions, thoughts and memories come to mind when hearing the word “retard” or “retarded.” Retarded is dictionary-defined as someone who is “less advanced in mental, physical, or social development than is usual for one’s age.” Physicians originally used the word in a clinical sense meaning “mentally retarded” or in better words “special needs.”

In today’s society, retarded, the r-word, is used as a degrading slur to mean pathetic, uncool or stupid. The use of the r-word is offensive and insulting to those who have loved ones with disabilities. There are many campaigns such as “Spread the Word to End the Word” and there are activists who are working to encourage the world in choosing an alternative word. Ending the use of “retarded” all together is necessary because it is vexatious to family members of special needs individuals, it is not socially appropriate and people do not see the repercussions of using the word.

Many people do not understand why the word is offensive. They say, “It is not as though I am making fun of anyone with special needs,” or, “It is not a big deal; grow some tough skin.” I have had peers and grown adults respond to me with statements such as these when I have asked them to use an alternative word.

My twelve-year-old sister, Caroline, was born with special needs. Caroline has an abnormality and partial duplication of her eighth chromosome. She functions on a two-and-a-half-year-old level and communicates through sign language because she cannot talk. Although she is clinically diagnosed as “retarded,” there is nothing about her that is pathetic, uncool, or stupid. My sister is the happiest, most selfless, and loving person I have been blessed enough to have in my life. Using the word “retarded” implies that my sister, and anyone else with special needs, is in fact pathetic, uncool or stupid.

Those who have disabilities and their loved ones already have “some tough skin” from dealing with the staring, pointing fingers, and malicious comments from the ignorant. People with special needs have so many other challenges to overcome on a daily basis. Why have them deal with offensive language on top of it all?

The r-word affects people in our society on a daily basis in a negative way. The constant use of the word as a degrading slur is found rude and offensive. As a sign of respect to all humanity, it is our duty to make the change we want to see in the world. We have to take a stand for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

It is not the responsibility of those with special needs to have to deal with the negative cut downs in addition to their daily struggles.

Ways to help spread the word, in a simple way, are to politely correct the person who said the r-word by saying, “You mean to say, “That is so stupid.” Hopefully, the person will acknowledge the degrading connotation that is associated with the word and refrain from using it. A gesture as simple as correcting someone can change so much.

It may not be a huge campaign or speech about spreading the word to end the use of the word “retarded,” but change has to start somewhere. The more we educate the world through these small actions, the closer we become in ending the use of the word all together.

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