The Right To Be Respected – Disability Awareness

This is the article that started it all – my venture into article writing.

*Variations of this article appeared in both the Hawks Claw – the Hopkins Academy school newspaper – in 2005 and in UMass Amherst’s Massachusetts Daily Collegian in 2008/2009.*

In the long struggle for equality for people with disabilities, there has been good news and bad news. The good news for disability advocates is that there has been great ground gained in disability awareness and equality issues. However, there is still work to be done. Namely, it is the language we use that concerns people with disabilities.

‘Stop being such a retard.’ This line sounds awfully familiar doesn’t it? It is a line that is used day in and day out by people everywhere, not just on the premises of this campus.

Every time I hear a person utter this line I cringe. I cringe when I hear the word ‘retard’ in a hurtful manner because I know that the intent is to degrade a person that has just done something perceived as stupid or wrong.

When you say that a person is a ‘retard’ or is ‘retarded,’ you are basically saying that the subject of the word is lowering themselves to the level of somebody with mental retardation, now known as an intellectual disability. That isn’t right.

The word is being used in an offensive slang manner that degrades fellow humans, both the person that the slur is directed toward and people with intellectual disabilities.

Have people with intellectual disabilities done anything to deserve this? No. People with intellectual disabilities are the same as you and me. They just have some obstacles in their lives that we don’t.

Than why do we so frequently use a word as offensive slang rather than what it really means?

To give you the correct definition of the word, it is, according to, ‘to cause to move or proceed slowly; delay or impede.’

Critics of this article may be wondering if I think that I have all of the answers. They may think that I am too politically correct. That I am portraying myself as a self-righteous wonder who sees all of the world’s wrongs. My answer to both criticisms is no, I am not.

In fact, I used to be a person who used the word in an offensive manner before I stopped. However, since I am in a position to take a stand against the word, I plan to utilize my opportunity.

The argument over the word ‘retard’ and ‘retarded’ used in a negative tone is an argument that I have engaged in many times.

This past summer, I took part in an online forum discussion on the movie Tropic Thunder on Several disability groups had taken offense to the movie over the negative use of the word ‘retard.’

In the argument that I was having with one gentleman, I had the line thrown at me that I was overreacting because words have no value.

Right. Let’s expand on that thought shall we? If words don’t have value, then why am I writing this article? Why do we have language? So, in my dear little friend’s world, a word is just a word, a life is just a life, a person is just a person ‘- not a very logical argument.

You see, words do have value. It is how we live amongst one another. When you tell someone that you love them, you are telling them that they mean something special to you. When your family tells you that they are proud of you, they are telling you that they are happy for what you have done.

Why do I attack this subject with such tenacity? If you know me personally, or have read any of my previous articles on disabilities awareness, then you know where I am coming from. I have a family member who has an intellectual disability.

I know that this article is not going to stop people from using the word ‘retard.’ However, if I can stop one person from using the word inappropriately, then I will consider what I have said a success, no matter how small that success may be.

I am aware that not all people, with or without disabilities, find this word offensive. What I represent here is the voice that claims the usage of the word to be at fault.

If after reading this, you still don’t have a picture in your mind of the people that you are insulting by using the word ‘retard’ as an offensive slur, I would like you to think on this line.

The line comes from the movie Tuskegee Airmen. The line not only exemplifies what these African American World War II fighter pilots were thinking at this time, but really what all suppressed people in this world think.

The line reads as follows, ‘There is no greater conflict within me. How do I feel about my country and how does my country feel about me? Are we only to be Americans when the mood suits you? A fair and impartial opportunity is all we ask. Nothing that you yourselves wouldn’t demand.’

Let us give people with intellectual disabilities a fair and impartial chance. Let us stop using the word ‘retard’ in an offensive manner.