Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Not a New Debate

When I was a kid, my mom worked for our local devision of The Arc - an organization that advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She still works there, actually. As a result, I was around people with disabilities a lot as a kid. I have such fond memories.

Back then, the medical diagnosis was mental retardation (and, yes, this sentence makes me feel really old). These days, if you're not aware, the correct diagnostic term is intellectual disabilities. Mental retardation is an outdated term.

I still remember my mom coming home from work one day and talking about the debate to change verbiage. I remember the conversations we had then about how it wasn't just about the words used, but the attitudes behind it. We talked about how people would find a way to demean and abuse whatever was the new medical diagnosis.

Which brings me to the word retard, a word I have a hard time even typing. It's a demeaning word, something that has been twisted and contorted over time to mean something cruel. It's a word - derived from a medical diagnosis - that was so misused over time that the medical diagnosis itself needed to be changed. Just think about that for a moment. And yet, everyone knows what group of people the word retard is referring to. And everyone knows it's not nice. Whenever the r-word escapes your mouth, you are - intentional or not - making fun of people with intellectual disabilities.

It's disrespectful.
It hurts.
It's not funny.
It makes you sound uninformed and unkind.

As someone who enjoys writing, words matter to me. I implore you to examine the words you use. If the r-word is part of your vocabulary, consider trying to come up with something better. Not only that, examine how you think and feel about people with disabilities. Do you consider them with love and respect? What we say about each other matters.

This isn't a new debate. It is something I've been hearing about my entire life. But, there isn't a debate about this: a whole lot of people are hurt by the r-word.

Don't say it.

Tomorrow is Spread the Word to End the Word Day.


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