Have you ever heard someone say “That’s so retarded” or “What a retard!” I definitely have. It’s a word that has become common in casual language, and many know that it’s unacceptable. However, people continue to use it saying that it’s “just a joke” or “It’s not a big deal. It’s just another word for ‘stupid.’” So, what’s the big deal?
The term “Mental Retardation” was a medical term introduced in 1961 as a way to refer to individuals with intellectual disabilities. However, Rosa’s Law was passed in 2010 changing “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability” in U.S. federal law. Fast forward to today, the words “retarded,” “retard” or any word that ends in “-tard,” are still being used as a reference to stupidity or being dumb.
While the term “mental retardation” is no longer being used in U.S. law, it still is connected to the disabled community, and is now connected to the idea of stupidity. Do you see the issue?
Even if you’re not directly calling someone the “R” word, it is still exclusive language because it makes the assumption that all individuals with intellectual disabilities are stupid or dumb… which is far from the truth. Individuals with intellectual disabilities are not dumb nor stupid, and they have just as much dignity and worth as anybody else.
You might be saying to yourself, “Ok, I get it. I’ll stop saying the word.” And while this is definitely an effective part of the solution, there is also another part. The second part of the solution is to speak up to people you hear saying the word. This takes courage and might even be a little bit uncomfortable, but we owe it to our friends with disabilities. It can be as simple as saying “Can you please not use that word? It’s exclusive language and is incredibly hurtful.”
The more we speak up against people using hurtful language, the more aware and educated we will become as a society. So, will you be an upstander and show EVERY person the dignity they deserve? With more awareness and education, hopefully we will begin to see inclusion pour into our world like never before.
By Lexi Breunig