The R-Word

I’ve gone back and forth many times wondering if I would ever sit down and actually write this post. It’s weighed heavy in my mind essentially since Caleb was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and we weren’t sure if he would have any intellectual delays or disabilities. I came across this post and video by Ellen on Love That Max. She articulates exactly why calling someone a “retard” or “retarded” is terribly offensive. The post is wonderfully written and so are most of the comments but I was dumbfounded at the number of people that anonymously responded really cruel and hateful replies. I don’t recommend reading the comments if you want to continue to have any faith in the human race.

Recently, I was in a situation where someone jokingly likened themselves to a “retard” because they were incapable of doing something. At first I was shocked. It was just said so hurtfully. Then, I felt my words bubble up inside me and before I could stop it, I let her have a piece of my mind. “You know that using that word is incredibly offensive right? It should be taken as seriously as any other kind of  slur and I would really appreciate it if you didn’t use it.” I couldn’t believe what happened next; she laughed it off and made some nonsensical comment about not being “politically correct”. I had to reiterate a number of times that she really shouldn’t use that word and I didn’t give a damn about her political correctness. She responded, “OK, I won’t use that word in front of you anymore.”  Like she’ll still use it, but only if I’m not around? Ugh. I still cringe just thinking about this exchange.

I’m not totally innocent here. Have I used the r-word before as an insult? I’m sure I have. Have I used it as a synonym for slow or dumb? Yes. Am I proud of it? No. I’m rather embarrassed actually, but to be honest, I didn’t realize how offensive it was until I became a special needs parent. I think most people who use the word use it as slang and it’s not meant to offend people with disabilities but by using the r-word, they are, whether they know it or not. It has become a part of everyday vocabulary. Check out how many times the R-word is mentioned online! It gets tossed around a lot. I understand the root of the word comes from the medical term “mental retardation” but it has been re-named intellectual disability. This week marks the 2-year anniversary of the signing of Rosa’s Law which “[…]changes references in many Federal statutes that currently refer to “mental retardation” to refer, instead, to “intellectual disability”.

Up until now, I’ve remained quiet, but I feel like I owe it to the people I love, respect and admire to let them know (without judgement) that the r-word is an offensive and hurtful slur. I’m not going to be afraid to speak up and I vow to start Spreading the Word to End the Word. Please think twice before using the word “retard” or “retarded” because you never know who you might be hurting. And if my plea isn’t enough to cause you to reconsider using the r-word, then I think you need to do a little soul searching.


I'm a working mom of three fantastic boys: Caleb, Wyatt and Parker. My husband, Shane, and I live in the Washington DC suburbs where we enjoy playgrounds, pools and never getting to sleep in. This blog is a journal of our day-to-day lives as well as a chronicle of Caleb's progress after a recent spinal surgery to alleviate the effects of his cerebral palsy.

Posted in Cerebral Palsy, Inspiration, Special Needs
7 comments on “The R-Word
  1. Brenda Dexheimer says:

    Well said, ALI!!!!

  2. Tom Levesque says:

    So sad Ali, I too will say something when I hear someone drop the R word. Have a good weekend with you boys.


  3. Louise Nadeau Beaulieu says:

    Dear Sweetheart….I have a lump in my throat after reading your post….I have been working with special needs adults for 3 years now. People in our town still call them the “R” word and many other derogatory names…it breaks my heart. We really need to advocate for these fine people…Hang in there and stand tall for your kid….Peace…

  4. Christine M. says:

    I will do my best to “spread the word” and “end the r-word” starting with myself.
    Thanks for your carefully written comments on the subject matter.

  5. Deb says:

    Allison, thank you for this important message. The R-Word video is powerful and inspiring. Thank you for using your voice 🙂

  6. Rosemary Rivera says:

    Hi Allison, very proud that you posted this… people of all races, age and sex use the R -word without stopping to think and how other’s may feel, I too feel its very highly offensive!.. I work at a Children’s Hospital and see a lot of wonderful ill children and makes my heart hurt, when senseless, thoughtless statements are spoken. I have stopped and will continue to stop the spread of the R-Word.!!

  7. GREAT post, and so great that you spoke up. Even if you feel like you may not have gotten anywhere, that woman will NEVER again be able to say that word without thinking of what you said. Trust me.

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