Society has come a long way in how it views and treats individuals with disabilities. However, unfavorable stereotypes and exclusionary thinking still exists. And how we speak about disability plays a big role in perpetuating this negative cycle.
Take, for example, the R-word. "Retard" or "retarded" has been used in both public and professional lexicon for centuries. In fact, it wasn't until 2010 (2010!) when President Obama passed Rosa's Law that the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” were officially eliminated from federal health, education and labor laws.
The entertainment and media industries have a historically bad reputation for exploiting intellectual disability as source of satire and comedy. (Check out this video to see what we mean.) And the R-word also found its way into public conversation far too commonly and casually.
Language affects attitudes. Attitudes impact actions.
Why Words Matter
Unfortunately, much of society remains unaware of dehumanizing and harmful effects of the R-word.
More simply put, the R-word hurts. It is exclusive, offensive and derogatory.
According to Dr. Stephen B. Corbin, former senior vice president for community impact of the Special Olympics, "bad language contributes to the dehumanization and stigmatization of others, which incites treating them differently."
That’s why Spread the Word to End the Word has been working since 2009 to educate others and eliminate the R-word from the public lexicon.
Led by young people across the nation, the campaign is dedicated to “inspiring respect and acceptance through raising the consciousness of society about the R-word and how hurtful and disrespectful words can be toward people with intellectual disabilities.”
How can I help?
It takes time and concentrated effort to change public language and thought. But you can make a difference!
Today, March 7, is “Spread the Word to End the Word” day. By pledging your support and committing to removing the R-word from your vocabulary, you can help bring us all one step closer to eliminating it from public conversation entirely. Visit www.r-word.org to add your voice to the 700,000+ others working to making this goal a reality.
And once you’ve made your pledge, there is more you can do to take action. Go here to find out more ways to help. From fact sheets to talking points, all the resources you need are there (and free!) for the taking.
Thank for your support in making this world a more inclusive place! As we so often say, your efforts, no matter how small, ALWAYS matter.