You may have noticed, in the past week or so, a big flashy thing over to the right. If you click on it, it will take you to www.r-word.org, the website of Spread the Word to End the Word. Today was their annual Spread the Word Day.
The word they want to end? Retarded or retard. I have a hard time even typing that, so strong is my negative reaction to those words. Words people throw around without thinking to mean bad, stupid, thing I don't like or approve of. Words that are hurtful, judgmental, offensive, and damaging.
My students have learned not to say them in my presence. The frequency with which one of them starts to say it and stops herself shows me how often she's using it outside my presence. "What's the big deal?" she asks me. "Nobody here is retarded."
I tell her that the big deal is that I am someone who cares about people, specific people as well as people in general, with intellectual disabilities. The big deal is that she sounds ignorant and bigoted when she continues to say it. And the big deal is that she communicates that people with intellectual disabilities are not deserving of respect or dignity. That to have an intellectual disability is synonymous with being bad, stupid, or something to be disapproved of.
Sadly, the word has become so ingrained in our society as a pejorative term that people still don't seem to realize that it's offensive. Spread the Word often calls celebrities out on it, asking supporters to post on those celebrities' Facebook pages about why their remarks were in bad taste. These people, far more often than not, apologize. The same happens (my student, who desperately needs to feel better than someone, aside) when you call someone out on it in real life. You calmly explain why you'd prefer they didn't use that word. Generally, they will apologize and make every effor to stop. It's that easy.
Spread the Word is also working to support legislation in the states to remove the r-word from official use. Many states, as well as the federal government, have passed laws to change the designation to intellectual disability. Some states have bills introduced on the issue, but not yet passed. Some states have had no action taken. You can find out what the deal is in your state at www.r-word.org.
And if you're still not convinced, or if you just want to watch something sweet and moving, you can watch this video by a mother of a child with an intellectual disability. Though he prefers to be called Max. The video is titled, uncomfortably for most of us, Would You Call My Child a Retard?
Well, would you? Would you let someone else do it in front of you? I hope not.