"send letters to organizations to help them understand that retarded isn't a proper word"… "it hurts us if you call us retarded"… "it is Ok to write the word retarded in order to explain to them that it is hurtful."
We have all felt the sting of hurtful words. They stick in our throats if we have to say them and stick in our hearts when we hear them. One particular segment of our communities has been speaking up about the hurt inflicted by one word, "retarded," and their challenges are finding people and organizations who will hear their stories and reasons.
It is a word now used to mean much more than a medical diagnosis a word that now expresses disdain or stupidity, funny or simpleness. Witness the first ten results from a Google search for the word "retarded"
The term mental retardation is often misunderstood and seen as derogatory. Some think that retardation is diagnosed only on the basis of belownormal ...
Seven of those first ten web sites found used “retarded” in a demeaning way. And, to top that off, no sponsors were willing to have their ads connected to the word.
So let's take a look at how words change. Here, from their web site, is the history of the ARC's name. National Association for Retarded Children 19531973
We can see that The Arc is now just a set of initials thus avoiding having the word "retarded" in their name. Does it change their mission or function to change their name? Does it make members and friends happier? Or do people still see a r c and think "retarded children",or "retarded citizens"
Recently I spoke with two members of the community about this problem. One, Paul Picard SUFU member, from Augusta, past state board member of Speaking Up for Us told me, "It's a word they've heard so they use it." "When they talk about us, say we're retarded it just puts me down I want to get out of the room." The other person, Maryann Preble from Augusta who is cochair of the Speaking Up for Us State board says, "We talked among the state officers Of SUFU about this. They didn't feel like they were retarded."
And when I asked her what the word means to her she said, "retarded means, can't do anything that regular folks do, can't speak well like others, can only sit there and not say anything dumb, stupid." … “I’m nobody, can’t do everything the other people can”
Paul expressed similar feelings about what the word means. He talked about seeing it on pins and hearing it from toys connected with a movie, "Napoleon Dynamite," released by Foxx last fall. (Foxx apologized and pulled those items.) But Paul was hurt by it and may be hurt again because the word is not going away.
From a media guide written and available on the web, opinions may differ on some terms, the guidelines represent the current consensus among disability organizations. Portions of the guidelines have been adopted into the "Associated Press Stylebook," a basic reference for professional journalists. …"DO NOT USE GENERIC LABELS for disability groups, such as "the retarded," "the deaf." Emphasize people not labels. Say "people with mental retardation" or "people who are deaf."… "Despite editorial pressures to be succinct, it is never acceptable to use "crippled," "deformed," "suffers from," "victim of," "the retarded," "the deaf and dumb," etc."… "Mental disability. The Federal Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) lists four categories under mental disability: psychiatric disability retardation, learning disability, or cognitive impairment is acceptable."
And therein lies a problem. Medical terminology, Federal laws concerning education, medical care, supported employment, and general disability issues all use the word "retarded" or "retardation". Many state laws do too. Very recently, with the help of the Developmental Disabilities Council and others, that kind of wording was removed from a bill regarding police training. Little by little things can change.
What do we replace the word "retarded" with when speaking about the condition? Paul Piccard responded, "developmentally disabled" (SUFU officers endorsed those words) … "cognitively disabled is almost the same, and it would be all right." In a very publicly distributed letter on Feb. 14, 2005 we find these words written by Chester Finn, Chair, SelfAdvocates Becoming Empowered (SABE):
And later, from a related conference source:
In a paper on the Arc web site, the subject is introduced.
This change might seem to be minor, but it has many major implications. This paper addresses in particular how it would affect The Arc's efforts in federal public policy issues. Key questions are:
As the paper goes on, it defines terms in medical and educational frameworks and tries to answer some of the questions posed above. It speaks of the work it would take to change focus, change Federal and state language, and change organizational practices and cultures. It then concludes; "It is clear from history that having the label of mental retardation left people open to some very unpleasant experiences. They had property taken from them, were locked in institutions, used as research subjects, segregated, neglected, abused and denied even the right to attend school." Is it any wonder there was a stigma?
People with mental retardation were among the first of those murdered by the Nazis. These murders were caused by a societal attitude that people with mental retardation were worthless and took food and resources away from more productive members of society. In fact, stigma stems from wrong attitudes and beliefs on the part of society. If the stigma is ever to go away, it will only happen when society's underlying attitudes are changed. Would The Arc's resources be better spent on efforts to change society's attitudes rather than on thinking up new terms that will soon have the same stigma as the old terminology? It is interesting to note that people who are deaf don't use "people first" language because they feel proud to be part of the "deaf community". Many people with physical disabilities are also less exorcised about "people first" language than people with cognitive disabilities. In fact, many of the more radical people with physical disabilities call themselves names like "crips" and use it proudly. Judy Heuman, Assistant Secretary of the federal Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), has a disability and refuses to use people first language because of her "disability pride."
What would happen if The Arc put major resources into a public relations campaign rather than into changing terminology? Would our efforts be better spent on educating the public that having mental retardation is nothing to be ashamed of rather than on trying to find another term that will probably over time develop the same stigma? What would happen, for example, if The Arc declared a national Mental Retardation Pride Day? The Arc should explore this possibility with selfadvocates.
Both Paul and Maryann are self advocates. They participated in the Alliance for Full Participation conference and discussed this issue of "terminology". They do not want to be called retarded.
When asked what happens if someone says the word because that's what they know Paul says, "some of them don't know any better, can't blame them, they didn't know. Second meeting they treat you just like a normal person. "And what should people say that will help the hurt? "I apologize I wanted to use another word,". Maryann agrees that education about the word is important because "we can do the same things as people that don't have disabilities, it just "takes a little longer to get the words out" and "time to learn how to do new things."
But then, there are those individuals who haven't learned or want to hurt! Paul says, "sometimes they don't want to apologize and they just keep on talking they want to make fun of us."
Google searching "retarded"
Google searching "blind"
History of the Name and logo of the Arc
GUIDELINES FOR REPORTING AND WRITING ABOUT
PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
The Alliance for Full Participation To obtain the full text of AFP's "Agenda for Full Participation in America," please visit
Chester Finn's letter
Mental Retardation v. Developmental Disabilities: Should The Arc change its focus from serving people mental retardation to serving people with all developmental