When they were originally introduced, the terms “mental retardation” or “Mentally Retarded” were medical terms with a specifically clinical connotation; however, the pejorative forms, "retard" and “retarded” have been used widely in today’s society to degrade and insult people with intellectual disabilities. Additionally, when “retard” and “retarded” are used as synonyms for “dumb” or “stupid” by people without disabilities, it only reinforces painful stereotypes that people with intellectual disabilities are less valued members of the community.
The use of the word retarded hurts because it is exclusive, offensive and derogatory. Society sees people who are living with disabilities as “defective” somehow. It is important to show compassion for people in order to create a more loving society. It is a simple change, but it is a step closer to moving toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people. Language affects attitudes and attitudes affect actions.
The word retarded should be completely avoided when used as an insult. Even when used as slang, the word retarded is still hurting people with intellectual disabilities because of the negative connotation of the word. It has been associated with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities since its inception, so when it is used in a negative context, it is putting down people with intellectual disabilities, regardless of if it is mean to or not. When used as a synonym for stupid or idiot, it implies that all people with intellectual disabilities are stupid, which is false.
When using the word to describe someone with an intellectual disability, it is recommended to focus on people and their gifts and accomplishments, and to dispel negative attitudes and stereotypes. As language has evolved, Special Olympics and Best Buddies have updated their official terminology to use standard, People-First Language that is more acceptable to constituents.
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