STAFF EDITORIAL: ‘R-Word’ is hurtful, outdated

Spread the Word to End the Word is a campaign aimed at raising awareness about the hurtfulness of the “R-Word.” This Wednesday, March 5, 2014, marks the fifth anniversary of the cause.

Many of us are familiar with the “R-word,” but for those who may not be, it refers to the word “retard” or “retarded.” The campaign asks people to pledge not to use this word, as it is offensive and derogatory to those with special needs.

The terms “mental retardation” or “mentally retarded” were once used to describe a medical diagnosis. However, those terms took an ugly turn, as some began to use “retard” and “retarded” as a way to insult someone; a synonym for “dumb” or “stupid.”  By using the “R-word” as an insult against those without disabilities, those with disabilities are made to feel like lesser members of society.

“Mental retardation,” as a result, is no longer considered the appropriate term. Organizations like Best Buddies, the Special Olympics and other organizations have updated the terminology, using “a person with an intellectual disability” rather than a “mentally retarded person.”

It is important to use people-first language, as we should focus on the human being, their gifts, talents and kindness before we acknowledge their disability. Using people-first terminiology allows us to identify with a person as a human being, rather than by their disability. It is much better to say “a person with autism” than an “autistic person.”

In October of 2010, President Barack Obama signed a bill into federal law that removed the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal health, education and labor policy and replaced it with people first language.  The law is known as “Rosa’s Law,” named for then nine-year-old Rosa Marcellino. Marcellino has Down syndrome and her parents fought to have the terminology changed after their daughter was labeled as “mentally retarded” by the elementary school on her education plan.

If our government has stopped using these terms, then why shouldn’t we? Allegheny College strives to create a welcoming community for all types of people. While we may not encounter those with special needs on a daily basis on our campus, it is important that we remember the damaging effects of this word.

The “R-word” is hate speech. It is no different than using a racial or homosexual slur. The emotional effects can ultimately be the same. We, as a student body, should stop and think before using the “R-word,” asking ourselves who we may be hurting with the use of this outdated term. All people, those with intellectual disabilities and those without, are people first. A person is not their diagnosis. Each person is an individual with their own unique beauty and abilities to bring to this world.