As a verb, the word “retard” means to slow down, obstruct or hinder.
But when used as a noun, it has a very different meaning, one that has for years been a common, derogatory label for those with disabilities, as well as an adjective for something silly or unusual.
“It’s become sort of a social norm,” said Clint Armistead, a Special Olympics board member who helped organize the second annual Spread the Word to End the Word day at Kansas University’s Wescoe Beach on Wednesday.
Armistead and other disability rights advocates across the world spent the day asking people to sign a pledge to stop using the word.
The continued use of the word marginalizes a community of people who have faced discrimination for years, Armistead said.
Megan Singer, a KU junior who signed the pledge, said retard is a word she hears “all the time” around campus and in Lawrence.
Singer said she usually speaks up when she hears it and thinks increasing awareness about the effects the word can have on people with disabilities can cut down on its usage.
“I think most people don’t think twice about it,” she said. “Most people aren’t aware.”
Armistead, who also volunteers with KU’s Best Buddies program, which pairs volunteers with people with disabilities, advises people to “say what they mean” in instances where the word is used as an adjective.
“Instead of saying ‘that’s retarded,’ say ‘that’s ridiculous,’ ” Armistead said. If talking about a person, Armistead said the preferred terminology is to say that a person has a developmental or intellectual disability.
But a first step, he said, is understanding how harmful the word can be.
“It hurts people’s feelings,” he said. “Just know the impact of this word.”