The “R Word”

By: Jillian Lesaca –

     Walking down the halls of any school during a change between classes, one can hear many snippets of conversation. Someone might be spilling some details about the math test they just took and someone else might be planning what to do that coming weekend. Along with the usual exchanges between friends, one can hear some derogatory words like swear words or discriminatory slurs. Not trying to condone swearing but a minor cuss here or there is not the end of the world. But, when it comes to the words “retard” or “retarded” taken out of their medical context, that can strike up quite a controversy.

     For the past few summers I have volunteered at Camp AIM, a mental and physical disability day camp sponsored by the YMCA. During the day, kids were placed into groups based upon their specific disability, and they would partake in various summertime activities. I can tell you from personal experience that those kids have the biggest hearts with the ability to love unconditionally. They have the sweetest faces ever and the smallest thing can make them light up with joy and happiness. Also, being around those with disabilities is nothing new to me. My cousin has autism and developmental delay. My grade school, St. Thomas More, has a very active St. Anthony Special Education program so kids with different disabilities such as down syndrome can be integrated into the classroom with everyone else.

     It is so important for people to be aware of those with disabilities and realize they aren’t that much different from the rest of us. One unique thing many people do not realize is their ability to comprehend and recognize when things are said about them. When terms like “mentally retarded” or “mental retardation” are used in the medical sense, that is fine. It is when those words are taken out of context and said in place of “stupid”, “challenged”, or “slow” that they take on a hurtful connotation. Just like any racial slur that most people think twice before using, “retard” should get the same consideration. Often times, the word is tossed around in ignorance and not intending to be hurtful, but when it is meant to mock those with disabilities, it’s just that much worse. They are such an innocent group of people so to ridicule them is a low form of bullying. To say these people have no way of defending themselves is not true. They may not have an immediate response to shield themselves, but when they speak out against these hurtful words and advocacy groups step in, real change can take place.

     One of the most prominent groups against the “R word” is Spread the Word to End the Word. What exactly is this campaign all about? Quoting the campaign’s website,, “Spread the Word to End the Word is an on-going effort to raise the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the word ‘retard(ed)’ and encourage people to pledge to stop using the R-word. The campaign is intended to get schools, communities and organizations to rally and pledge their support.” I strongly encourage you to take a few extra minutes to go on this website and read all about it. There will be resources listing how to get involved, articles about the “R word” being used in the media, an events schedule detailing when rallies will take place, and general information to learn more about this moving campaign. In order to see a real change, word has to spread and something must be done about it. Every person that can be educated about the usage of this word can help make a change.


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