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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 Furthermore, it is an outdated term that isn’t even used in the medical field anymore.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.

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Thinkstock photo via Sanja Grujic.

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