The R-Word: Real Talk
by Sara Davis, Student Services Coordinator, CLE Denver
Retard. There, I said it. Now let’s spread the word to end the word. Why, you may ask? This word is hurtful and disrespectful to many and promotes exclusivity. So how do we do this? Let’s look at a simple three-step process.
First, let’s look at the definition of the R-word:
“Delay or hold back in terms of progress, development, or accomplishment”
Mental retardation was originally introduced as a medical term but over time, it has been widely use to insult and degrade people with intellectual disabilities and also, become slang. When used as synonyms for “dumb” or “stupid” by people without disabilities they are only reinforcing the hurtful stereotype that people with disabilities are not valued members of our society. I asked a student, how do we move forward in today’s culture? “We need to take the power away from the word. At one point, it might have been deemed as acceptable, but as society has changed and grown up it is not anymore.”
Our language shapes our attitude and our attitude shapes our language; they’re intertwined. Moving forward in today’s society, we can all practice people–first language. What is this, you ask? It’s acknowledging people before their disability. It eliminates the old and hurtful descriptors and moves us into a new direction. People–first language is not political correctness; instead, it demonstrates good manners, respect, and it can change the way we see a person. It can also change the way a person views himself or herself. Here are a few examples of people-first language:
“A man living on the streets” vs. “he’s homeless”
“People with disabilities” vs. “They’re disabled”
“She is an 18 year-old with autism.” vs. “she is autistic”
I challenge you all, moving forward to use people-first language and to have that conversation with loved ones, co-workers, and friends if they use the R-word. Education and awareness is everything and it’s time that we all treat each other with the respect and dignity every human being deserves.