Retarded | Teen Ink


December 6, 2013
By fireandrain PLATINUM, Wayland, Massachusetts
fireandrain PLATINUM, Wayland, Massachusetts
22 articles 2 photos 29 comments

Favorite Quote:
"People who think they are crazy enough to change the world usually end up being the ones who change it."

Tracy Morgan. Kristen Stewart. Lady Gaga. Kris Allen. Madonna. Lebron James. Jennifer Aniston. These celebrities- though all household names- don’t seem to have that much in common. However, they do have a shared trait, and it’s not a very nice one. All of these celebrities, at one point or another, have used the word “retarded”.

You may be thinking, “so what? It’s just a word!” However, the word “retarded” is not just the common insult many act like it is. It is deeply offensive and derogatory term, and whenever someone says it, they are offending millions of people who either have or know someone with special needs.

The word “retarded” was once a medical term -- used to describe someone with an IQ lower than 70. It never meant anything more than “slow”. But after it was constantly used negatively in popular culture, activists began to fight for the r-word to not be used as a diagnosis anymore. Rosa’s Law was put into place, named after a girl with Down Syndrome. Rosa’s Law states that the use of the word “retarded” in diagnoses is illegal. The word was replaced with the term “intellectually disabled”. Despite this achievement in the medical field, the r-word is still a common slur heard daily around the world.

People who use the word “retard” are saying that they believe being disabled is something to be ashamed of. That a person with special needs is nothing more than their disability. As Karleigh Jones, a Special Olympics athlete says,
“The word ‘retard’ is considered derogatory, because it offends people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as the people that care for and support them. It alienates and excludes them. It also emphasizes the negative stereotypes surrounding people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; the common belief that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities should be segregated, (and) hidden away from society.” Users of the r-word make having special needs a bad thing. They equate having an intellectual disability to being dumb, or stupid.Many people, when using the r-word, don’t mean these things. But, even if they don’t think that’s what they’re suggesting, they’re implying it.

The use of the r-word affects me personally as well. I have two siblings with special needs, and I know personally the effects this word can have on the family members of someone with special needs. My stomach drops whenever I hear the word. But, I don’t get angry, because getting angry just makes me feel worse. When my classmates use the word, it shows how clueless my classmates are. These people are putting down someone I love. That breaks my heart. However, I’ve learned not to confront my classmates about it, because they’re all too immature to care about the effects of their words, and they usually mock me.

Even some adults at our school don’t seem to care. In sixth and seventh grade, I repeatedly asked Ms. Gavron to say something about the word “retard.” There were always announcements and posters up about not using the word “gay” as an insult -- I figured this would be no different. However, even though she (and others) said they would talk about it, no matter how many times I asked, nothing was done. I guess it didn’t matter to her. The ordeal made me wonder: “Why are some insults more offensive than others?

A perfect example of this, is the word “n***er.” The n-word was once okay to say, but now has a horrible history and prejudice attached to it. So does the r-word. Most people consider the n-word extremely offensive, even a swear. This is because of the negative connotations it has, and the way it was used as demeaning towards African Americans. The word “retard” also has a bad history, the only difference between these two words is that the n-word is not socially acceptable -- but the word “retard” still is.

As a special needs sibling, when I hear the r-word, I wonder if the speaker realizes they have just called my brother and sister dumb. That they have just taken all of their personhood away, and summed them up by their special needs. By using this word, they bring everyone with special needs down to nothing. They make them out to be worthless.

What can you do to end the spread of this word? When you hear someone use it, call them out on it. Explain what I have explained to you. You can go online to and take the pledge to “Spread It to End It.” Even if you don’t do anything, I hope my words made an impact on you, and that the next time you’re about to speak -- you’ll think about what you’re really saying.

The author's comments:
As a sister of someone with special needs, I am an activist against the word "retard." I hope this article makes you think about what you are really saying, and spread it to end it!

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