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We've Fought Hard to Start Abolishing the R-Word, but We're Not Done

I remember last summer getting a text message from my brother Joe while he was at work. The conversation went something like this:

Him: “I hate when people use that word.”

Me: “What word?”

Him: “I am a person. There are many other words they can use.”

Me: “Did someone call you that word? I will come up there right now with my hockey stick and give them hell.” *Disclaimer, I would never physically hurt someone, but I can give a pretty vicious dirty look.*

In my own social circles, I have often heard people refer to things as that word (“retarded”), and then looking at me, remembering where I work or my personal story, and going, “Oh Eileen, I’m sorry, you know what I mean.” Most people who use it do not understand the history of the word, and how hard it took people with disabilities and their advocates to abolish that word from various policies in government.

When the phrase “mental retardation” (MR) was first introduced in the early 1900s, it was a way to classify people with developmental disabilities of varying degrees. As years passed, it was visible that this terminology did not make sense. People diagnosed with MR in their early stages were all placed under a label when they were all so different and some of the most intelligent people on this planet!

Fast forward to 2010, it was time to put these amazing groups of individuals into a more positive light, without a label that held negative connotation that often caused many misunderstandings.

On October 5, 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama officially signed Rosa’s Law. This law removes the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal health, education and labor policy and replaces them with language like “individual with an intellectual disability” and “intellectual disability.”

On March 2, across the country, many organizations celebrate with an annual “Spread the Word to End the Word” Day to raise awareness. It took fight, push, and a lot of love to start abolishing the R-word. I hope people think of that before they use it.

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Thinkstock photo by solar22