Stop using the “r-word”

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By Emily Pendleton | Contributor

The word “retarded” is far too often used colloquially as an insult or jab at someone who has done something considered stupid. This happens despite efforts to end its use, such as the R-Word Campaign run by the Special Olympics. Even if you yourself do not say it, you probably know someone who has. It’s up to us to end the stigma surrounding intellectual disability.

In the past, the term “mentally retarded” was used clinically to refer to those with a medical condition that causes below average intelligence. The root of the word means to be delayed or slow, which is not inherently offensive, and it is what the clinical definition of “mentally retarded” was based on. However, the issue lies in a cultural shift that occurred, a shift that equated “retarded” to stupidity in a context meant to harm the recipient of the word. It is tossed around as a common insult, but its users do not seem to realize the implications.

In the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the term “mental retardation” has been replaced with intellectual disability. Rosa’s Law, adopted in 2010 by President Barrack Obama, changed its terminology to say “a person with an intellectual disability.” Intellectual disabilities affect approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population. Its definition varies based on IQ and the person’s ability to live independently, as people diagnosed with intellectual disability have a wide range of abilities. As such, a person is not defined by their illness, their disability or their struggle — whatever that may be — and we should treat them as such.

By calling someone “retarded,” we are downgrading those who deal with an intellectual disability to a sub-human level, essentially saying that they are worth less because of their intelligence. It is incredibly offensive to those who have mental disabilities, and it’s like saying that they are not as good or important as someone else. It invites bullying and closes the door to the most basic level of respect.

Even though this word has become so engrained in our vernacular, we must be active in making a change. So, the next time you hear someone use the r-word, suggest another word — there are plenty of others in the dictionary.

We should promote a culture of tolerance and acceptance in our communities, so choose to use a kinder word instead. Using the r-word creates stigma surrounding a group of people who should not be branded by insult. We are all people, and we all deserve the same level of love and respect. To care for others, set an example in your community. Stop using the r-word. It’s never OK.

Emily is a senior psychology major from Austin.