Down With the “R-word”! (VIDEO)

Often when my son Charlie and I are walking on a certain street where there’s businesses and gas stations and the like, a car zooms by and something is shouted out the window amid raucous laughter. It’s often hard to hear what is being yelled at us but I wouldn’t be surprised if at times it’s been that word, the “r-word.” 

Though Charlie has no sign of any physical disability, his being “different” — he’s on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum — is signaled by his being tall as an adult (he’s just turned 14) but only saying one or two words, or holding his iPad close to his ear as it blares out Disney songs. Or, not saying any words at all but humming or making what sounds like weird noises to others.

Perhaps the shouters/hecklers think he’s “too dumb” — too “r-word” — to know he’s being yelled at. For sure, Charlie does, though his response (crying and being visibly agitated in his body language) tends to occur after a lag.

Such incidents are distressing. Charlie has as much a right to walk in the neighborhood listening to whatever he wants as anyone else. It is heartening to know that there’s a campaign going on to end the use of the r-word and hateful, disrespectful language towards individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Glee star Jane Lynch is part of the campaign to end the r-word as the Huffington Post notes:

Lynch stars with her “Glee” cast mate Lauren Potter in a jarring new PSA against the derisive use of the words “retard” and “retarded” in everyday language and to encourage inclusion of those with intellectual disabilities. By comparing the word’s derisive connotations with that of racial slurs, the campaign, spearheaded by a number of entertainment executives, urges the silencing of the term in its derisive context.

In working to stop using the r-word, it pays to note a little history about the use of words to describe those with intellectual disabilities. Not too long ago, using the term “retarded” was considered progressive; in the 1950s, the terms “moron” and “imbecile” were considered acceptable, hard as it may be to believe such. That is, the terms we use to describe individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have changed and will continue to change.  The meanings of words aren’t set in stone, but are altered as we use them in new and different ways. 

Someday we may find “intellectual disability” and “developmental disability” terms we cringe to hear just as we now do when we hear “feeble-minded,” “cretin,” “idiot,” and, yes, “retard.” What we need to change most of all is not simply the words we use to talk about and address Charlie and others with disabilities, but how we perceive and interact them and their different strengths and many, very many, abilities.

Take Action:

Please take a moment to sign this petition to end the use of the r-word and discriminatory language about individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.


Photo by the author.


Duane B.
.6 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

jane richmond
jane richmond7 years ago

Some teachers don't realize how offensive this word is and use it in reference to students who learn at a slower pace but are not mentally or physically challenged.

colleen p.
colleen p7 years ago

I saw a vegan on youtube call meat eaters and meat eating retarded. should we all make vid responces and laugh at her for it? "hey, I am caring loving kind person, but I'll use the R word. look at me, being high and mighty, but my life and diet is peaceful and I live for compassion"

KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B7 years ago

Action taken.

Wioletta S.
Wioletta S7 years ago

we have to akt

Tom Y.
Tom Y7 years ago

The unintended consequence of what could've stayed a clinical description: another word gets weaponized and aimed at someone who's a perceived (or actual) outsider.

I don't think banning this word is the answer. Restoring it to a dispassionate, neutral context would be better. The alternative is making its use another speech-code pretext for the Thought Police, and we shouldn't be giving them any excuses to exist.

colleen prinssen
colleen p7 years ago

what about name calling for people you don't agree with? it's always there. anyone who farms their own chickens to eat is a stupid, messed up twisted sadist.
so maybe not call them names too.
I swear people even call them retards. but it's understandable. as far as I know animal rights acivitsts are more bleeding hearts than bulging brains. They'd rather abolish the term "eat like a pig" than care for the mentaly ill, seeing how some even call Andrew Zimmren "Autistic" for going to South Asia and eating bats with the natives

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal7 years ago

What is politically correct? I will gladly change a few terms, treat people as human beings, and address what is not acceptable.

dawn w.
Dawn W7 years ago

If they didn't use that word they would just say something else.They're bullies,plain and simple,and abolishing certain words won't change that.

Valerie A.
Valerie A7 years ago

Nasty comments only shows ignorance, however, I think we are being made too sensitive, . you can call me what you like I really dont care.