Words Hurt

Intentional or not, the “R-Word” and other derogatory terms can be harmful to those with actual intellectual abilities.

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Designed by staff

Words considered slurs are often thrown around among high school students. Parents of children with learning challenges explain that such terms are “offensive and demeaning.”

Edria Brummer, Staff Writer

People say the word without thinking. They blurt it out when given an assignment they resent or disagree with a ref’s call. It’s a catch-all insult term, but it targets people with learning challenges.  Though many throw this term about loosely, they likely don’t consider the harm they are causing.

https://www.spreadtheword.global/

The word “retarded” is an incorrect and inappropriate medical term once used to label people with intellectual disabilities.  In 2009, the Spread The Word Campaign was created.  This organization is working towards inclusion for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  In 2010, President Barack Obama signed “Rosa’s Law,” which changed “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability” in U.S. federal health, education, and labor policy. 

Over time, the word has become a slur used to “insult” friends and peers without regard to those with intellectual disabilities. To describe someone as “retarded” or to use the word in general, is to speak as if you are better than someone who has a disability and that those who are disabled are “stupid.” No matter what context you are using it in, it is not okay. 

Jeff and Dawn Bonsall, teachers in the Council Bluffs Community School District, have a child with an intellectual disability. These parents use every opportunity to speak out against the use of this derogatory word to better educate others. “There are any number of words that could be used to express the same sentiment without using the ‘R-word’ which is so offensive and demeaning,” Dawn Bonsall said.

There are any number of words that could be used to express the same sentiment without using the ‘R-word’ which is so offensive and demeaning.”

— Jeff and Dawn Bonsall

“From a parent’s perspective, it always feels like an insult. Even if it isn’t directed to our daughter, what they are essentially saying or doing is comparing an undesirable or ‘dumb’ behavior to my daughter,” she said. The Bonsalls also advocate that the use of this word “only serves to further alienate and belittle people with intellectual disabilities.” In a time when our society is encouraging acceptance and inclusion of all people, it seems that we are going backward instead of forwards.   

There are mixed feelings about the use of this word at AHS. One senior thinks “When this word is used, it is very derogatory. Using it in any context is very disrespectful.” Many students pick up this word from home or hear it around friends. “I heard this word and thought it was ok to say when in reality it is not ok to say. I have now realized what it means and how it affects other people,” the student said.

I heard this word and thought it was ok to say when in reality it is not ok to say. I have now realized what it means and how it affects other people.”

— AHS Senior

Having an opinion on the use of the word means nothing if you don’t take action. “When I hear someone use it, I stop the conversation and correct the person using it. There is no need for the use of the word under any circumstances,” said the student. 

Another student thinks using the “r-word” “doesn’t really matter as long as you aren’t using it towards someone with a disability.” This student, along with many others, uses this word in social settings with their friends. “I think it is important to know that I don’t mean to offend anyone with a disability and that others know I am joking when I use it.”  They personally think it’s “just a word” but see how others can take offense to it. “I have been corrected on it before and just know not to say it around certain people.” 

Words have the ability to lift up those around us. The “R-word,” however, is not one of them. The “R-word” is a term that cannot be construed in a positive way and is used to make fun of someone whether they have an intellectual disability or not. Individuals with intellectual disabilities can do amazing things. They have artistic, athletic, and academic skills. They have families and their own businesses. Most importantly, they are humans. Even if you are using the “r-word” as a synonym for ‘stupid’ or ‘dumb’ rather than to reference a specific person, it is not ok to use and never will be. Words change over time, and we can choose to change how we use them.