Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What's in a Word?

"That's retarded." "You're such a retard." "Don't be a 'tard." Those kinds of comments come out of our mouths all too often. I'm ashamed to admit that I've made comments like this myself when I was younger. We hear them in movies and on TV. We have no intention of hurting anyone with these words. In fact, they've become widely accepted in our culture as a way to jokingly insult one another. But the problem is, those words can cause a lot of damage. Besides being hurtful, they can also reinforce stereotypes and make life more difficult for people with intellectual disabilities.
Edmonton Down Syndrome Society Buddy Walk 2007
Photo Credit: Christy Dean

I never fully understood the hurt caused by the word "retard" until a dear friend's baby was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. It was such a shock to everyone at first, since no prenatal testing had been performed, but it quickly became apparent to everyone what a wonderful blessing this child was. She has thrived and defied all expectations of the "experts." She is treated just like any other child, with love and respect for the person that she is. But one day, she could face the cold, hard realities of the world. My friend and I had a conversation one day about the word "retard" and how someone had used it in a conversation with her recently. She told me how hurt and angry it had made her feel. The most painful mental images were those of her daughter being teased and called names later in her life. She just wants to protect her daughter from that kind of ridicule and shame.
two young girls laughing behind another girls back
Photo Credit: studiostoer

Words have the power to uplift and inspire, but they also have the ability to cause so much pain and hurt. So please, before you refer to someone or something as a “retard” or “retarded”, stop and think about how an intellectually disabled person would feel if they were listening in on your conversation. Consider making a personal pledge today to eliminate these words from your vocabulary, unless you're educating someone about how hurtful they can be.


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