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Ending the R-Word

Retarded, a word that was used as far back as the 15th century to describe individuals with special needs, is now erased from use in clinical language.  Although once acceptable as a medical term, the word retarded (R-word) has evolved in everyday language to a term that is surrounded by negative connotations and is considered by many to be a word that is dehumanizing, exclusive and offensive.

Great strides have been made in many states to change this terminology and President Obama’s recent implementation of Rosa’s Law eliminates the use of the R-word in federal law. Campaigns across the nation have emerged to support the removal of the R-word from everyday and clinical language; all of these campaigns seek to replace the R-word with intellectual and/or developmental disability to describe individuals with a variety of diagnoses such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism.

So what can you do to help stop the use of the R-word?

  • Speak up against hearing the R-word in everyday conversations by explaining how the word can be hurtful and destructive.
  • Write letters to media outlets when the R-word is used.
  • Share information about ending the R-word with your family, friends and coworkers through conversations and social media outlets.
  • Become involved in disability advocacy.
  • Join the campaign of The Arc Florida to support Senate Bill 142 which removes from Florida State statutes the words “mental retardation.”
  • If your state hasn’t begun the process to eliminate the R-word, contact your local government representatives.

Written by Vivian Grifantini
AmeriCorps, VISTA
The Arc Jacksonville