This is probably the hardest post for me to write. Not because the message is hard to deliver but because by writing it I am calling a lot of my closest friends out; even myself.

If you have never in your life, EVER, used the word “RETARDED” or “RETARD” then you can stop reading here.

My bet, though, is that most of you should keep reading.

I know most of you don’t even notice it coming out of your mouths, you don’t “mean” any harm. Usually you are using this word to put yourself down for dropping something or forgetting an appointment.  What you must have forgotten is that this slur is based on the medical diagnosis of “mentally retarded” applied to some people that have developmental disabilities. “Some people” like Annie. You must have forgotten. Otherwise when you do or witness something “stupid, annoying, or uncool” and you use the R-word, you are implying that Annie and all individuals with mental retardation are bad and inferior also. And for those of you who have met Annie…I have watched. You don’t think she’s bad or inferior. You usually coo and melt and want to be around her as much as possible. So, you must have forgotten.

That’s why I’m writing this, not just to remind you, but hopefully to engrain it deeply into your brains so you will NEVER forget again. Not so that you simply stop saying it, but to bring awareness by calling others out when they say it, too. If we ignore it and sit back silently knowing it’s wrong, we can’t change it. Can’t remove the hurt and pain it causes.

Because it does. It hurts. My family hurts every time the word is used. Let me be clear: I am not asking you to be sensitive in the presence of my company or in front of others with developmental disabilities.  I know you are more aware when I am around. I know because I’ve caught you. I’ve seen your face as it slipped out or almost did in front of my baby and me. That if I wasn’t there, you wouldn’t have stopped yourself, wouldn’t have thought twice about what was coming out of your mouth amongst your friends with your children at your feet. You use it so carelessly, you don’t even notice.

You should start noticing, though… please.  I notice. I notice when you are talking about your boss and stop mid-word “Re-” as you look at me and your face reddens. I can read your faces… They so obviously say “Oh, Annie and Colleen are in the room. OOPS!”  And I know how terrible you feel. I truly know you are genuinely sorry. I’m just not so sure you would be sorry if I wasn’t there.

It hurts when we’re not in the room, too. It hurts even more that, after such an encounter, I leave thinking that word would have come out had I not been there. That others in the room would’ve laughed or joined in on the complaint of whatever was “retarded” that day.

It’s such a common word. It grazes playgrounds and classrooms. It frequents offices and restaurants. Celebrities and politicians use it. Commentators and radio hosts use it. We are more okay with saying it in front of children or on television than swear words. It’s not okay. It needs to stop. It shouldn’t be common and casual. We need to change it.

Two years ago I didn’t even think about the word. I know I said it. It came out of my mouth as casually as the word “SHIT’ or even (sorry Mom) the “F-bomb” does when I stub my toe or leave the stove on. I never even realized I was saying it, didn’t notice its presence in my vocabulary. I was always conscious not to call other people “retards” or “retarded,” but didn’t realize the harm and tremendous hurt I, and almost EVERYONE else around me, was causing when it was applied to the smallest of things. I hardly even noticed what I was saying. A favorite TV show cancelled, “That’s retarded.” Forgetting a coffee date, “I’m sorry, I’m such a retard!” The rules at school or work. A favorite sports team’s losses. Some people even use it to describe how incredibly stupid they were the night before because they drank too much.

I didn’t realize that my using this word and adding to its commonality was causing tremendous pain to so many people and families. I know now, too well, the hurt. I can’t even imagine the pain on the first day Annie will come to me in tears after hearing or being called the terrible term.

When you say “Retard”  you are comparing Annie and all other people with developmental disabilities to all those unwanted, annoying, stupid, bad things. I know you don’t think you are. Your getting upset or disappointed by something doesn’t trigger an image of my daughter or an individual with a disability and make you think, “Oh yeah, that’s how I feel about this!”

But you are. You are using her diagnosis to describe all the unwanted things you so casually cast away with that terrible word. So stop it. Please.

Annie’s not unwanted. Neither are the other beautiful, wonderful babies, children, and adults in our world who happen to have a developmental disability. So stop making us feel that way.

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8 responses »

  1. Colleen – a very “ear” opening post – thanks so much for reminding us to be accountable for EVERY word that comes out of our mouths and bringing to our attention to how words can hurt – even when not directed to any particular person!!!!

  2. What an incredibly important reminder to us all, Colleen. Thank you for sharing your writing.
    And BTW….seeing your beautiful “Annie” always puts a smile on my face…

  3. I stopped using that word a long long time ago.(like in grammar school I’m 54).. it is insensitive. and hurtful, I have befriended a few downs kids and they are wonderful people who are without hate and are carefree, loving and charming.. enjoy your special girl for she is truly special…..and a gift…

  4. The subject touches us in particular as our niece, Sammy, has Down Syndrome. She is 25 now and lives in Colchester, Illinois, near Macomb, on a farm. She’s very active in Special Olympics and this is a story I heard about her recently: Sammy won the backstroke competition which qualified her to go to the Illinois State level Special Olympics competition. Later the same day she a competition in another category (I think it was softball throw) which would also qualify her for State. On her own, she went to the judges and said that since she was already going to the State competition, she was asking them to give her first place in softball throw to the second place winner, so she could also go to State. Does she need special education or do the rest of us?

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