The R Word

— 3 minute read

Apologies for the weird formatting on this post. It's adapted from an answer that I'd given during a global AMA talking about Neurodiversity and inclusion after someone in the event had used the term "retarded".

I can't speak for all countries but I know in the UK and the USA that "mental retardation (MR)" as a phrase is generally frowned upon and the term intellectual disability (ID) is preferred. MR was used in the American DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as recently as 1994. Retard/the "r-word" has transitioned from a word that used to have medical use into one that is less acceptable based on its usage as a derogatory term aimed at people without intellectual disabilities as an insult with negative connotations. It exacerbates the beliefs that people with IDs aren't intelligent and devalues their existence. This term has understandably become hurtful to those who have to live in a world that doesn't treat them as equal, and historically, not human (See: Eugenics). This excellent blog post by someone with a younger brother with an ID does a much better job conveying this than I ever could :) The Mighty - The Problem with the R word

The key point isn't about the individual words, it's about the intent behind the words. Intent > Content. It's scary to speak up and let others know about the background of words and phrases they're using, but 90% of the time people are unaware of the negative context behind phrases as they've become so normalised in our respective cultures. By taking just a few minutes to talk openly about this in a (and this is key here) non-judgmental and blame-free manner, we can help to create a more open and welcoming culture for everyone! 🧠 💗

Thanks for reading if you've got this far, please let me know if there's anything I should add/change, it's a topic that I personally have limited experience with but passionately believe that we should strive to make the world a more welcoming place for everyone. Have a great day everyone! Aidan 😊

Appendix with fun links:

  • There's an excellent campaign here with a focus on educating people and encouraging inclusion for all people with intellectual and developmental disorders.

  • Wikipedia has quite a nice page around this, specifically the Terminology section to gain some historical insight into the phrase:

  • Another interesting case, the UK charity Scope who campaign positive attitudes and education around disability and gives services to those who need it. When it was first founded back in 1951 it was called the "National Spastics Society" but changed to "Scope" after the increasingly negatively charged term "spastic" being used in a derogatory manner. This is a prime example of the meaning of language evolving over time and showing that it's okay to change!