National Awareness Day supports sensitivity in the community


A National Awareness Day, launched by the Special Olympics to “Spread the Word to End the Word”, is happening today. Its target is a word that many of us have used at one point or another not knowing it was hurtful to so many people.

That word is known by its opposition simply as the “R-word,” and that word, “retard,” carries so many negative connotations that the organization says it has a “dehumanizing effect.”

It is asking Americans to make a pledge to stop using the R-word and instead use “more respectful and inclusive language, specifically that referring to those with intellectual disabilities.”

This is not an unreasonable request from an organization that doesn’t typically grab headlines, but instead focuses its energies on honoring those with disabilities and giving them a chance to actively participate in their communities. Americans should consider their request a motivating factor to remove this word from their vocabularies so the insulting behavior can be stopped altogether.

The R-word is extremely damaging to people with those disabilities. Instead of meaning someone who is disabled, the word now carries the connotation of someone, or something stupid or dumb. Common use of the word has altered its meaning and created a hurtful insult that emotionally harms those with intellectual disabilities and their families.

Anyone who has ever known a disabled individual knows that being “stupid” or “dumb” is the furthest thing from the truth. They simply have different abilities. These individuals are talented, hard-working and some of the best people a person could ever know.

It’s sad that, in our modern society that has collectively worked so hard to eliminate slurs and demeaning phrases, the word has taken that rude and hurtful definition and is still so commonly heard. This word should be taboo as it carries negative connotations, just as the N-word does.

The word, however, is not just offensive in context but in professionalism too. Under the definition of disabilities listed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) people with intellectual disabilities are labeled as “mentally retarded.” IDEA should not be adding fuel to the fire to get rid of this word, it should simply change its definition. Calling someone “mentally retarded” in a modern “professional” sense could be looked at as not only wrong and hurtful, but it is further degrading these people and the rights and respect they have fought for and deserve. Every person deserves the same respect, regardless of their abilities.

Everyone should make a swift and conscious effort to remove the R-word from their vocabulary permanently.

The R-word has no place in our society today, and we should seek to eliminate it and be sensitive to everyone around us, especially those who may not have a voice for themselves.