Eliminating the R-Word

Eliminating the R-Word

The R-Word can only be eliminated when another R-Word takes its place. I will get to that word in just a moment.

There has been a gradual evolution in the usage of the word R-Word, “retard” or “retarded.” All the way back in the 1400s the R-Word was used to talk about the blockage of, or the slowing down of, something. In the early 1900s the R-Word became a clinical term used in the world of medicine. In the mid-1900s it became an offensive slang term. By the 1980s it was widely used across many platforms of media. Back in 2004 Special Olympics adopts a resolution to update their language from “mental retardation” to “intellectual disabilities.” This happened because of Special Olympics athletes self-advocacy efforts.  In 2008 Special Olympics launched a campaign to end the inappropriate usage of the R-Word. Now 10 years later we see positive traction with this movement. The DSM-5 officially replaced “mental retardation” as a diagnosis updating their language to “intellectual disability.”

Even though there has been 10+ years of activism when it comes to eliminating the R-Word, it is still used regularly. There hardly seems to be a week that goes by where someone within popular culture is quoted using the R-Word. Because of the positive powers of Social Media these instances are quickly called out and further awareness is brought to the collective conscious of our society.

Unfortunately, much like racism and other forms of hate the R-Word will likely never be fully eliminated. I do however know of one way that the R-Word can be eliminated on individual cases. The R-Word can be defeated by another R-Word. Do you have any guesses what this all-powerful R-Word is?


I believe the R-Word can only fully be defeated when there is a relationship built between the user of the R-Word and someone who is affected by disability. It is the shared humanity and the realization that we are in fact more alike than different that can break down walls of hate and ignorance.

Organizations, individuals, schools, government, churches, etc. must create opportunities for relationships to be built. There is so much power in relationships. Far too much isolation still exists in the disability community today. Overcoming isolation is another topic that must be tackled. These issues are not separate issues. They are very deeply connected. May we as a society see this and tackle it together.

It is my prayer that the power of relationship would be the key cog in eliminating the R-Word.

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