Archive for Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Special Olympics fights use of insulting word

Dyllan Hildebrand, 17, of Bowie, Md., right, explains to a student why she should sign a pledge “not to say the R-word” Tuesday at Bowie High School in Bowie, Md. The pledge is part of a campaign by the Special Olympics to get people to stop using the word “retarded.”

Dyllan Hildebrand, 17, of Bowie, Md., right, explains to a student why she should sign a pledge “not to say the R-word” Tuesday at Bowie High School in Bowie, Md. The pledge is part of a campaign by the Special Olympics to get people to stop using the word “retarded.”

April 1, 2009


— The Special Olympics launched a campaign Tuesday to banish the word “retard,” a casual insult that derives from an out-of-favor medical term and has long been considered inappropriate.

People signed pledges not to use the word and students gathered to denounce its use at rallies from Florida to Alaska. Over the long-term, organizers hope to change attitudes about people with mental disabilities, who number more than 190 million worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

“It’s insulting, it’s painful and it hurts people,” said actor Eddie Barbanell, who has Down syndrome and appeared in the movie “The Ringer.” “Get that word out! End the word! Bury it!”

While “retard” itself was never a medical term, it derives from the phrase “mental retardation,” which by around 1900 was commonly used by scientists and doctors, said Peter Berns, executive director of The Arc of the United States, a nonprofit advocate for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Even though Berns said its pejorative connotation was established in the 1960s, the phrase “mental retardation” is still used in many state and federal laws, much to the dismay of those trying to stamp out its use.

“People with intellectual disabilities themselves really mounted a movement that they did not want to be referred to with the word ‘retarded,’” he said.

As such, the American Association of Mental Retardation changed its name in 2007 to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities after its members pleaded for the organization to do so. In another sign that the formal use of the term “mentally retarded” had lost currency, The Associated Press replaced it in its stylebook in 2008 with “mentally disabled.”


RoeDapple 9 years ago

A teenage neighbor with a mental handicap once told Mrs. RoeDapple," I like 'Roe', he treats me like a 'real' person". Had no idea I was doing the right thing, but he did. So, please, please, if you do nothing more for the mentally disabled than treat them as "real people" they will know.

Because they are.....................

classclown 9 years ago

How long until the currently politically correct term "challenged" (as a blanket term) is considered pejorative and unacceptable?

Vernie 9 years ago

It seems like they would have longer lasting success if they tried to work to reduce pejoratives in general as we're simply creating a cycle of words being appropriate, used as a pejorative, then inappropriate.

Perhaps I only say that because I still use "retard" as a verb.

Keith 9 years ago

Nothing ever gets any better, it just gets a better name.

viewfromahill 9 years ago

It doesn't even get a "better" name, just a different one. Even the term "special" now has taken on a negative connotation. The only way to escape pejoratives, ultimately, is to transcend language. It's the old playground rhyme... "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." When we stop empowering words, then they will no longer hold power over us.

And, face it, we're all challenged in different ways and to different degrees. (Me, more than most.) Let us show a little sympathy for the retarded little name-callers in their doomed attempts to empower themselves via self-referential verbiage.

BigDog 9 years ago

Does it seem almost counter productive to have a major campaign to draw attention to use of the word even more?

It is kind of hard to have it die when you are drawing major attention to it.

StirrrThePot 9 years ago

If we struck every word from our language that was used incorrectly by idiots, we'd have very few words left.

Roe--you are dead on. They may be mentally disabled, but they know when they are being mistreated, and they know when someone is being kind. Many of them can spot a fake a mile away.

It is really quite simple and yet so many "normal" people just don't get it. Treat these folks like you would anyone else--with respect and kindness--that is all they need and want, but seldom ask for.

HermioneElliott 9 years ago

If we are going to treat the disabled as individuals then we are going to have to admit there are some we just don't like. No one has the right to expect respect and kindness. If you get it well and good. If you don't, you don't. Life goes on.

RoeDapple 9 years ago

If anyone would know.....................

begin60 9 years ago

Most of the language used to describe the differently-abled is extremely insulting and small-minded--if there wasn't a disability there to begin with-this language would create it-- but when so many people in Lawrence obviously believe in illegal profiling on the basis of physical prowess or the lack thereof -their absolute entitlement to violate the personal boundaries of strangers to offer imperious, demeaning "help" what do you expect? Who are the truly handicapped here? I say it's the busybody harassers who claim they are helping when they offensively single out and bedevil strangers.

sgtwolverine 9 years ago

As one born with a physical handicap, two things bother me:

1)Needless euphemisms. One commenter used the term "differently-abled." What on earth does that mean? It makes people sound like mutants with special powers or something. Let's be honest: we're talking about people who lack certain capabilities most people have. Don't try to couch it in some vague and meaningless term.

2)The term "disabled." For the life of me, I can't figure out why it was deemed superior to handicapped (which is what I still use), but somehow it's become the popular term. Why does it bother me? Consider the use of the term in other facets of life. When a car is disabled, it's nonfunctional. When a software function is disabled, it doesn't work, period. But somehow, when a person is disabled, it's magically some pleasant sensitive term? I don't get it.

I'm not really an activist of any sort, but those two things often irritate me -- not enough to make me call congress or anything, but enough to provoke a few words.

begin60 9 years ago

I mildly disagree with the sarge's post. Remember Martin Luther King eloquently dreams of a day when people will be judged by the content of their character, not superficial appearances. I guess a lot of people in Lawrence "just don't know any better," to be nice about it, but they are certainly unusually vocal and intrusive in expressing their stereotyped assumptions about others. It's inappropriate to inquire into the health and well-being of strangers just because they walk with a limp or use a white cane or something. Just accept people for who they are and don't mess with their independence and dignity. Brighter people would likely realize they are often dealing with an extremely capable and bright person beneath any differences. Learn to recognize and appreciate the strengths of others. This is what healthy relating is all about; it's not about honing in on flaws and treating others like pitiful dependents who need your sympathy and help. When you do this to strangers you are basically singling them out for illegal, offensive discrimination. That is why the midwest even though people here try to see themselves as friendly and "helpful" has a well-deserved reputation for bigotry among thinking people.

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