Spread the Word to End the Word
Today, March 3, 2010, starts the Special Olympics with the motto to “End the R-Word Day.” The goal of this year’s event is to put an end to everyday use of “retard” or “retarded.” It is considered demeaning and, to some, as insulting as the N word or other racial or religious epithets.
Although you can’t legislate language or ban the use of words, some words or phrases can be replaced and make for a better world. “I pledge to show Respect to everyone” is recommended as a replacement for the R word. Our language frames how we think about others. All people deserve respect, including those with disabilities. Opponents argue they have a right to insult people and that the First Amendment protects their speech regardless of who is victimized.
Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics shares a common belief in dignity, equality and opportunity for all people with intellectual disabilities. Everyone is accepted and celebrated through the simple platform of sport. Their motto is “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Special Olympics has over 3 million athletes in over 170 countries.
Update: In October, 2010, the President signed legislation that removed all references to “retarded” and “retardation” from federal health, education and labor law, replacing it with “intellectual disability.” Following suit, Arizona became the first state to pass a similar law in April, 2011, removing the words “mental retardation” and “crippled” from state statutes. “Mental retardation” was replaced with “intellectual disability” and “crippled” was replaced with “physically disabled.” You can read Arizona’s amended laws here: http://www.azleg.gov//FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/legtext/50leg/1r/laws/0089.htm&Session_ID=102
Once you understand that some words are demeaning and offensive, is it hard to drop them from your vocabulary and everyday conversation? Is it worth trying to replace it with a kinder word? Have you thought of the effect such a word has on others? Have you felt anything for a friend or relative who is disabled and referred to as a “retard” or worse? Keep these changes in mind and they may become a habit – one that many will appreciate.