By Julianna Koballa
“That’s so… absurd, childish, weird, dull, illogical, senseless, uncool, trivial, pointless… and you choose retarded? Buy a dictionary.” This has probably been one of my favorite memes since I became part of STRIDE here at Findlay. STRIDE stands for “Students Teaching Respect for Individuals with Disabilities Every day.”Ask any member of STRIDE, including myself, about what they think of the word “retarded” and we might show you some tough love. Retarded has such a negative connotation that has increased significantly. People use the word extremely out of context and it can be hurtful to people who are not only physically, emotionally, or mentally disabled, but to people who are perfectly normal-functioning as well. The word has become subjective. Just because someone isn’t as good at math as someone else doesn’t mean they are retarded either. Members of STRIDE and other student organizations find extreme offense in this one word. It is something we can all work on not saying and raise awareness about.
Using the ‘r’ word ignores individuality. The ‘r’ word equates intellectual disability with being dumb or stupid. It’s derogatory, incorrect and offensive. The word retarded creates loneliness. Just as racial slurs or homophobic comments are considered hate speech, it’s time we start believing the ‘r’ word is hate speech, too.
Karleigh Jones, a Special Olympic athlete, explains the idea of hate speech a little more. “The word retard is considered hate speech 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, hidden away from society, which, in my opinion, is really old fashioned.”
I agree with her. In a society that is trying to progress out of segregation and stereotypes, we should also consider boycotting the use of this word. Not only should we neglect to use this word in our own vocabularies, but we should also call people out when they use it. It’s okay to let someone know that you are offended by something. Who knows? You might turn them onto this world-wide campaign. That’s how we build awareness. Language is one of the most powerful tools we have as humans. Contrary to popular belief, words hurt more than we know.
Tim Shriver, CEO of the Special Olympics says, “Words matter. People don’t need to scoff at others to make a point. Everyone has a gift and the world would be better off if we recognized it.”
In a society that is all about individuality, we must take into consideration that using this word also takes away from individuality. Everyone is unique in their own way. Everyone has gifts and talents that deserve to be expressed freely and without hesitation.
The bottom line is this: the word “retarded” is demeaning. No matter how the word is used, it will always be related and thought of having to do with someone who has a disability. It is so demeaning that an awareness slogan entitled “Spread the Word to End the Word” has grown exponentially throughout college campuses and other groups nationwide. The national campaign celebrates its day of awareness this year on March 4. Because UF will be on Spring break, we celebrated it on Feb. 25. STRIDE had a table set up in the AMU and markers so students who made the pledge to not say the ‘r’ word could sign a banner. Visit www.r-word.org to learn about this awesome group and campaign.