I'm Sick of Hearing the 'R-Word'

“That’s retarded.” “Dude, I got retarded drunk this weekend.” “You are a legit retard.” “I failed my math test, that’s so retarded.”

People, it is 2017. As a high school student, I hear these phrases daily — sometimes hourly. Every time I hear this, my heart and stomach drop. I feel empty, confused, and sad all at once. I become internally distraught because I can’t comprehend how the speaker of those words thinks it’s OK to use that language.

People with disabilities are first and foremost people. They make a very broad and diverse minority group. All genders, ages, religions, socioeconomic levels, and ethnic backgrounds are represented in the disability community. Just as the use of other derogatory terms is inexcusable, this situation is no different. A wave of sadness takes over, and I don’t understand how someone thinks a name of a medical condition is an insult. Furthermore, it is an outdated term that isn’t even used in the medical field anymore.

I feel sorry for the people who are so insecure with themselves that they can’t treat others with basic human respect. I feel bad that they don’t see what I do; the charisma and genuine joy of life within the individuals with disabilities I have interacted with. Then comes the next stage. Anger. Livid anger.

I get enraged with the amount of ignorance one person can possess. Their use of old or inaccurate names adds to negative stereotypes and misconceptions. A disability is above all a medical diagnosis. The only place a diagnosis is even relevant is in a medical, educational, legal or service setting. Besides that, the words on someone’s medical form should have zero effect on how you perceive them. Would you describe something as “OMG that’s so cancerous” or “I’m such a tumor?” No. The same goes for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities. Those who think otherwise are disrespecting people with disabilities by stripping them of a chance to show their personality or interests. The language chosen to describe others exposes your fundamental beliefs and ideas about them.

It is one thing if you simply did not know the meaning of the word. We have all been there. I have been there. But when someone is clearly aware and should know better, I lose all respect for them. I would like them to interact with someone in the disability community. Learn a thing or two. Witness the endless determination and hard work someone may put in to accomplish a daily task. See the creativity used to communicate differently. Be exposed to that person’s own interests and become cultured on a subject they enjoy that you may know little about. Then, try to tell me how you think a diagnosis makes you superior.

This is just a friendly reminder that words are the most powerful thing. You can use them to tear someone down to their worst or bring someone up from their lowest. They can calm someone down in a life-or-death situation or just express affection. Our words and evolve from feelings to attitude to actions. You will inevitably interact with a person with a disability through your life. One day, you could even give birth to, have a relative with, or meet a parent of someone with a disability. People with intellectual disabilities are not “sick” or “suffering” from them. A disability is not inherently a problem. The “r-word” and the stigma surrounding disabilities is the problem.

Disability is a natural part of the human experience. I’m sorry if differences make you uncomfortable or insecure. You probably have a lot more in common with “that retard” than you think. But your ignorance is not an excuse to hurt the people I love. So no, I am not being “hypersensitive” or “dramatic” when I call people out for using the r-word. I expect people to be civil and respectful.

On October 5, 2010, Rosa’s Law was signed. It replaced all references to “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” in federal documents with “an individual with an intellectual disability” or “intellectual disability.” So the next time you go to say “that’s retarded,” think about those you are hurting in the process. It’s not socially acceptable anymore, and you need to catch up with the times.

Take the pledge! Sign up to support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote acceptance and inclusion.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Sanja Grujic.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Intellectual Disability

Photo of OKCupid's login page.

OKCupid Removes Question Asking If People With Low IQs Should Be Allowed to Reproduce

On Monday, after nine months of petitioning, OKCupid, a free dating website, removed a question asking if people with low IQs should be allowed to reproduce. According to OKCupid, the site hosts questions meant to help users determine who they want to date, thereby allowing users to filter their matches based on the way people reply. [...]
Runner running to the finish line with his hands triumphantly raised.

The 2019 Summer Special Olympics Will Be Held in Abu Dhabi

On Tuesday, Special Olympics World Games announced the 2019 Summer Games will be held in Abu Dhabi, marking the first time the games will be held by a Middle Eastern country. Special Olympics is designed for people with intellectual disabilities, not to be confused with the Paralympics. Approximately 7,000 athletes from 170 countries are expected to [...]
Walmart Logo

EEOC Sues Walmart for Discriminating Against an Employee With Down Syndrome

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is suing Walmart after a store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, fired an employee with Down syndrome. Marlo Spaeth, who worked at the store for 15 years, was terminated from the company after repeatedly failing to show up for work after her schedule was changed. According to the lawsuit, Spaeth worked [...]
Bar Mitzvah - boy reads Torah scroll.

Faith and Coming of Age for My Son With a Developmental Disability

On August 5, 2017, in front of his friends, family and community, my son will be having his Bar Mitzvah. As is custom in the Jewish religion, Nate will stand up in front of the people he loves and participate in an ancient coming-of-age religious ceremony indicating he is now an adult in the Jewish [...]