Retard?

Honestly? Out of all of the words you could have used, you chose retard? What were you actually trying to say? Do you even care that you just took a shot at an entire group of people as a way to get a retweet?

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A while back, when I was working on a club proposal idea for a public speaking course, I stumbled on a website called R-Word.org. The site belongs to a “Spread the Word to End the Word” cause, which partners with the Special Olympics, Best Buddies, and a couple hundred other organizations, with the mission of ending the use of the word “retard.”

This isn’t a post from some entitled cry-baby, demanding you to stop using a derogatory term like the r-word. This isn’t meant to shame you into believing you’re a horrible person because you’ve used the term out of its original definition, or with the intent to bash someone. This is a post from a terrified uncle who hopes to see his nephew grow up, without extra labels, in a world that is harsh enough without the help of uneducated slurs.

The word retard was once used in the context of clinical “mental retardation.” This was how people of yesteryear would describe a person who is intellectually different. To no surprise, and like many other words, this term has been tweaked to denote something entirely different. Now the word is often used to identify something as bad, stupid, or crazy. Or, often times, to insult a person or hate on yourself. This is just a reminder that the word isn’t cool and it definitely isn’t constructive.

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time as an observer. I’ve heard people use the r-word in everyday conversation, making known the poor decision they made to do so. I’ve seen the word posted on social media; hours before typing this, I performed a Twitter search to see how it was being used online. I’ve even heard the word tossed around on television shows.


Each time I hear or see the word, it’s like a punch to the gut. I can remember when I didn’t think before I spoke. I can remember when I was younger and I used the word in a joking manner with my friends, or in an angry manner when talking about someone who had been bullying me. So, I guess that punch in the gut is from the little kid I used to be, the kid who didn’t educate himself enough to choose a better word.

As I grew older, and understood what I was saying, it was easy for me to cut the word from my vocabulary. As I met new and different people, I opened my eyes and heart enough to know that I had been wrong in the past. I have worked with people who are intellectually different. I am now the proud uncle of a perfect little guy who happens to have Down syndrome.

I use “intellectually different” instead of “intellectually disabled,” because I don’t believe that someone who has Down syndrome, autism, or some other cognitive difference is disabled. If you want to see someone who is disabled, look at the kid I used to be; the kid who didn’t know enough about the word he was using to decide on a better one.

I now look forward to spreading the word to end the word. I can’t promise that holding an event near my campus will change the way people think. I can, however, promise to use it to offer information and encouragement to those people who haven’t stopped to think about the word they’re using.

More than 657,000 people have signed the pledge to end the use of the r-word. People are coming together to stand up for those who are so much more than just a word. One man, John Franklin Stevens, who just so happens to have Down syndrome, prepared a poem for Huffington Post about the use of the r-word. It was inspired by his favorite Robert Frost poem.

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So, this isn’t a post that shames you for the decision you’ve made to use the word “retard.” It’s a post that encourages you to leave your own disability at the door and move forward with a pledge to spread the word. You can learn more about the r-word movement and check out some stories from others here. If you want to be a part of the change, sign the pledge here.

Don’t stop with the pledge. Plan an event, or search for events in your area on Spread the Word Day (March 1, 2017). Look into some of the events sponsored by the Special Olympics, Best Buddies, Tim Tebow Foundation, etc. We have work to do! #SpreadTheWord.

To steal some words from Stephens- and from Frost:

The word, still dark; the wound, still deep.
So, we “have promises to keep
And miles to go before we sleep
And miles to go before we sleep.”

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