Insensitive insults demean the disabled

November 16, 2017 — by Sandhya Sundaram

It’s not uncommon to hear someone casually calling someone else a “retard” for doing something stupid or careless. People jokingly throw around the word when they get an answer wrong on a test, trip in the hallway or make some other sort of mistake. We often use the word without even thinking about what we’re saying or realizing its deeper meaning.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word retarded as “slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development,” referring to people with cognitive disabilities such as Autism or Down Syndrome, that prevent them from being able to comprehend things the same way others can.

On the other hand, the Urban Dictionary says that it is “a word used to describe someone who is profoundly stupid. A type of stupidity that is an insult to intelligence itself.”

The word sped is also used to describe careless things people do in their daily lives and knowingly or unknowingly targets those with learning disabilities or differences. Although the intent behind the word is usually joking or playful, it is also important for us to think about the meaning and then make a better judgement.

People with disabilities have no control over their situations, so using labels like retard and sped advances the unfair belief that people with disabilities are inferior or even that they’re not worthy of respect. Although using the words in conversations with friends may not directly impact  people with  disabilities, it still shows disregard and ignorance.

Since intellectual disabilities fall on a spectrum, and there are many milder cases that aren’t as noticeable, it might not always be obvious if someone suffers from one. Or if they don’t, maybe they have a family member or close friend who does.

Even if it is just casual chatter, people could take offense at these insults.

These words are also derogatory, which leads people to view those with disabilities more negatively.

Using these terms creates a stigma toward people with mental disabilities, making people unsure or afraid to approach them or interact with them. After all, they are people too and deserve the same respect as anyone else.

Fortunately, these words are growing out of fashion, with movements having been started to bring light to such issues.

In 2009, the Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit launched the “Spread the word to end the word campaign,” encouraging people to pledge to erase the r-word from their vocabularies.

In 2010, president Obama signed a bill commonly known as Rosa’s Law, which changed the terminology used in federal health, education and labor documents. The term “mentally retarded” was changed to “a person with an intellectual disability.”

We should follow and support these changes by simply using different words. Although we most likely don’t mean to degrade people with intellectual disabilities when we use certain words, we should understand who our words affect and substitute more sensitive language instead.

 

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