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The “R” Word: A Challenge to Bloggers.

The “R” Word: A Challenge to Bloggers.

Stop the “R” Word

March 6, 2013 is designated “Stop the ‘R’ Word day. If you go to their website they have many ideas for activities and actions. If we each do one thing, we can make a difference for the future of our children. Please share your thoughts and actions in the comments.

David Hinsburger and the “R” word.

David Hinsburger is an award-winning author and advocate for people with disabilities. His article titled: The People who “ARE” the “R” Word is a must read classic for anyone who doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about.

Sticks and Stones and names hurt

My Letter to a Major Blogger

As promised in my post “Definitions of “Retarded”, this is the letter I wrote to a major blogger when he used the words “retarded” and “idiot” in one of his posts. It is edited for this post.

Hi _____,

I have followed your blog ____ for a long time and enjoy your stories, ideas and writing style. However, I have issues with your use of the words: “retarded, idiot, moron and imbecile.”

You have made strong statements about using whatever words you want–even if they offend people and hit their hot buttons.

You can use words like “idiot, moron, imbecile, crip, tard…,” but why?

I agree this is America and defend your right to freedom of speech. I agree people who find these words offensive can just unsubscribe. But… you are a smart and thoughtful person. Why would you want to purposely offend vulnerable people?

I would rather believe you don’t understand how much these words hurt.

Mental Retardation–two words that matter.

My son has the label of “mental retardation” now called an “intellectual disability.” Because of those two words, he was not allowed to go to public school.

Because of those two words we had to spend three years in court, costing thousands of dollars. We, along with other parents, had to prove our children were human and had the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We had to prove in court that our son would benefit from being around other people and his mere presence on the school grounds would not harm other children. Because of those two words he was not allowed to participate in swimming lessons with the other kids in our neighborhood PUBLIC park. Because of those two words our family has been refused to be served in a restaurant and a Doctor refused to have our son for a patient…need I go on?

But our problems were minor compared to people with the label of intellectual disability in the past.Parallels in Time: A History of People with Disabilities

Just a generation ago, because of those two words, people were treated as animals instead of humans. They were sterilized, given doses of radioactive materials in their oatmeal. They were taken from their families (“for their own good”) and warehoused in inhuman institutions. Some were not given clothes and had to sleep on straw. They were denied even the most basic human rights–all because one psychologist in one situation gave them one test and labeled them those two words.

Most history books have made people with disabilities invisible. So, you probably aren’t aware, but the words: “moron, idiot and imbecile” came straight from the medical manuals of less than 40 years ago.

There are still churches which will not allow people with the label of those two words to marry, some churches do not even allow “those” children to attend their services or receive the sacraments. Many private schools and churches legally still segregate and discriminate against our children with those two words.

There are many normal couples who joyfully want a baby–until they hear those two words, and then immediately abort. There are Baby Doe cases where if the baby has Down syndrome and is assumed to have mental retardation, the family refuses to take the baby home from the hospital and refuses to allow the baby to have food. There are cases of “wrongful birth” where the parents sue the Doctors for allowing their child with “mental retardation” for being born.

In 2012 we can add the case of baby Amelia Riveria who was refused a transplant because she had an intellectual disability. The hospital has recently apologized.

“Mental Retardation, retard, retarded” are not funny words”

In Ohio, the state legislature passed a bill in 2009 to remove the words “Mental Retardation” from state agencies and its documents. This was the work of numerous advocates and thousands of hours of public hearings.

This is a civil rights movement where we are fighting for the right of our children to live, work and recreate in the community. The right to be seen as human beings and citizens of this great country.

Sticks and Stones … and words can hurt.

When a label carries enough stigma that the label alone can cause discrimination–the label is a problem.

The civil rights movement of the 60’s laid the ground work for Sec. 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act…. and our civil rights legislation, The American with Disabilities Act (1990). If you look at the closing statements in Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) you will see the school district’s argument, (paraphrased) “If you let negro children in the public schools, the next thing you know the school will have to educate retarded children and Indians.”

In 2012, our children have the right to go to public schools, and restaurants cannot refuse to serve us, or ask us to leave because they don’t like “the way we look”.

This is NOT ancient history. This is NOT some group of radical parents and advocates who just want people to be politically correct.

Churches, non-public schools and organizations can still discriminate and decide who they allow in their churches but because so many of our children are going to school and living with their families in the communities, there is not the fear that once existed. And the medical professionals have dramatically changed their low expectations and acknowledge the limits of the IQ test and other measures they used to label people.

Sure this came about because of civil rights court cases and federal legislation, but mostly it happened as decent people decided to give people who were different a chance. I know it is unpopular to say that the Federal Government and Laws are important. Many people say there is too much government. I wish there was more protections and enforcement for vulnerable people.

Challenge to Bloggers

My challenge to all bloggers is:

Will you take cheap shots and continue hateful language which hurts people? Or, will you use respectful language and recognize people with intellectual disabilities are people and at least give us all a chance to build a better world.

Words have power. You have power.

Will you use your power to continue to hurt people, or for change?
I know you didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but for those of us (like me) who have children with IQs below 50, children who were labeled “idiots” by our Doctors and medical professionals and who are struggling every day to try and make a better life for our children, the words: “retarded, idiot, moron, imbecile” are downright offensive. So forgive me that I rant today instead of ignoring it.

I know the words are used everywhere and people aren’t particularly trying to hurt people with intellectual disabilities but I would appreciate your consideration.

Thanks. Mary

The blogger I sent this letter to agreed to not use the offensive language only asking that he remain anonymous. I consider that a victory for all of us, and it has made me a loyal fan.

Rosa’s Law

Rosa’s Law was passed and signed by President Obama in 2009 to use People First language in all Federal documents. Love, NOT Labels| Rosa’s Law

I am hoping other bloggers will take up the challenge and use People First language and the words “intellectual disability” in a respectful way.

This is a fresh start. We can do it right this time.

What about you?

Will you take the challenge to remove the “R” word and other hurtful words from your vocabulary?

Will you help educate others who use the words?

Will you learn more about PEOPLE FIRST LANGUAGE?

Talk to me in the comments. Let me know what you are thinking.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward.

All the best,


Related Posts:

“Retarded” Keywords

Remarkable Parents who Never Give Up

Happy Feet, Retarded Teeth and Carnival Goldfish

Retarded| No More

Norm Kunc| What’s Your Credo?

People First Language| Building Community, “Wheelchair Becky” and Smoky Woods

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48 Responses to “The “R” Word: A Challenge to Bloggers.”

  • Tara says:

    I’m jumping on the late bus, but from now on I will correct anyone who says that word. At first I was afraid of what people would think of me if I corrected them (since it is common to say in the Indian community that I grew up in) but now I know that if they really card about me they would understand not to use that word. What is worse is when (typically older folks) would say words such as “broken” when describing a child with a disability. Of all words, why use that one? Anyways, very great post, Mary!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      It takes courage to tell your friends that word is not acceptable. But it’s the only way to educate them. Thanks.

  • Mary says:

    Thanks Jaden, we need all the help we can get.

  • Jaden Salensky says:

    I am an advocate against the “R” word. I have tried and most succeeded in getting my friends and other people I am around to not say it. I think changes like this one are very important.

  • Katee Moon says:

    This article is close to home for me. One of my closest cousins is an advocate against the “R” word. She absolutely despises the use of it and will cut anyone off who uses it around her. I personally do not like the word either. There are so many correct terms, I wish this negative term could be gone away with completely. Society has a lot to work on….

    • mary says:

      You’re right Katee, and especially around Halloween. Glad your cousin is such a good advocate. Thank her for us. 🙂

  • Adrianne Lanyi says:

    Once again, this is another aspect that I didn’t think too deeply about until our class discussions. After thinking about how the word “retarded” has affected my life I thought about how it was used when I was younger. As kids, we used the word “retarded” when we were trying to be mean to someone else. We never thought about the true meaning of the word…it was just always considered a “mean/bad word”. As I got older I started to realize how offensive the term really is. The word feels unnatural and uncomfortable if I were to use it today. I know now that it has taken such a negative connotation and is degrading to those who have a disability.

    • Mary says:

      Hopefully we are all learning and moving past the “R” word. But it takes each of us being an advocate and stopping others and that takes courage. Glad you’re on our side Adrianne.

  • Ed Carlin says:

    I think it is great that you actually took the time to write to the person and show him that those words are offensive and do hurt people. Most people will just read stuff like that and forget about it or move on and not say or do anything. I believe you have to be the change you want to see in others and you represent that perfectly.

    • Mary says:

      Hi Ed,

      I often write letters and get no response. That was what made this experience so amazing–and this was a REALLY BIG NAME BLOGGER. So, that made me feel like it made a difference. You are right that you need to make your own change. And, even if the blogger wouldn’t have responded, at least I knew I did what I could–and maybe the blogger was changed but just didn’t want to let me know it.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • mary says:

    Definitely glad you to have you on our side Marissa. It’s tough to challenge others, but it shows you stand up for people who are vulnerable. Thanks. 🙂

  • Marissa White says:

    I enjoyed reading this article because it shows that words really are powerful and can harm people. In this day and age, so many people use the “R” word in everyday conversation. They might think “Oh I was just joking” or “You know I didn’t mean to offend you,” when they don’t understand how hurtful it can be.
    I think it is great knowing that people are making an effort to put an end to the “R” word. We need to see past certain disabilities and not be prejudiced by how we talk. After reading this article, I will definitely go out of my way to inform others that using this type of word is degrading and so disrespectful!

  • Pamela Pinney says:

    Aspie cats is based on the book All Cats Have Asperger’s. This is a cute video on youtube.

  • Gary Jordon says:

    IJust a quick correction to the above comment. I meant hypothermia not hyperthermia.

  • Gary Jordon says:

    Hi Mary. I found wondering couldn’t we repurpose these MR DD school from being a glorified daycare into something like a training school for parents/care to learn any special dkills alongside their charges with one or more coaches. Thus helping both the bonding process and providing caregivers access to resources and training. Onr thought the dou can keep the polar bear plunge . This gives me hyperthermia just thinking about it.

  • Pamela Pinney says:

    As always, I love your passion, perspective, and the power of your words! My graduate school and training in Special Education was in Virginia, where I was well taught to always state the person first, then the disability. Six years ago, my husband and I moved to a small rural town, called “the city of…..” in Ohio.
    And the first year I was in utter disbelief of the way other educators and folks in the community regarded children with disabilities. I was not in a special education room, but a “multiple-handicap Unit”, I was to work with those handicap kids, “why are those students in this school and not a the local county MRDD school?”, my daughters in the middle & high school were shunned as weird because they “talked” to those kids in wheelchairs, and their classmates used the word “Retard” which upset them.
    Here I was in a public school setting and always felt the need to advocate for my students and educate each person who made these careless and hurtful remarks with many of the same points you have made (but I know I didn’t do it as well). It’s really a never ending story.
    On a side note, my 26 yr old niece, who has Down syndrome, and my brother along side her, just completed their Polar Bear Plunge in Virginia Beach for the Special Olympics:)

    • Mary says:

      HI Pamela, it is always a shock when we are faced with such obvious prejudice. Thanks to you and your children for taking a stand. That is our hope. One by one we can change the way people speak and think. Fortunately, many of the MR/DD schools are closing in Ohio. I’m proud that I could help be one of the first to close our Butler county school. But it is such a struggle. Did you study with Marti Snell? She’s one of my heroes.
      Mary recently posted..The “R” Word: A Challenge to Bloggers.

      • Pamela Pinney says:

        I studied at the University of Mary Washington (formerly known as Mary Washington College). One of my professors was named Nora Hooper, who use to teach at a local elementary school that I was applying for a teaching position with my provisional teaching license in SPED, and I did not know that information at the time while I was interviewing for the job! She and the whole team of professors I had were outstanding. Personally I think everyone is special and has some-type of disability, whether we want to acknowledge it or not!
        Anyways, I currently teaching at our middle school, and loving the position and the kids, and was able to arrange for both the middle & high school functional classes to go out in the community once a week volunteering and learning to be a food server at a community volunteer food program that provides free meals to residents twice a week! The food program staff loves the extra help and the kids like being useful ( and out of school!). a WIN-WIN situation!

        • Mary says:

          Hi Pamela,

          Glad you could share your experiences. We need great teachers who are always trying to learn. Volunteering at the food program sounds like a terrific opportunity for your students. Not only did they learn skills, but they were doing real functional work–if they didn’t do it, someone else had to do it. You’re right, it is a win-win experience.

          So many schools think of “field trips.” Community based learning is soooo different. Glad you can give your students this important learning opportunity.
          Mary recently posted..The “R” Word: A Challenge to Bloggers.

  • Tonya Kappes says:

    Great post, Mary! Definitely spread the word!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks Tanya, each of us can do our part. Best wishes always and thanks for all the encouragement. Hugs.

  • Amber says:

    I strongly agree that the “R” word should never be used to describe anyone. I am a college student and until two years ago from taking a diversity siminar that that word was completely disrespectful and uncalled for. Since then I have been encouraging a lot of my other peers to not even have that word in their vocabulary. So far so good! I think it just takes that one person to stand up and be a positive example.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      You are right Amber, you can make change happens one person at a time. Thanks for being an advocate for our children.

  • Megan says:

    I do not know anyone who would like to be called the “r” word. I think that people need to take into account more and think more about how others feel when being called that and also how they would feel if they were called that. I think that people need more knowledge of what saying those kinds of words can do to a person or make the person feel.
    It seems to me that people do not realize what meaning the “r” word really has. It has taken on a meaning now to look down upon people or to make someone feel better than another person. I think that if more people thought about the magnitude of the use of the “r” word they would feel the need to not use it anymore. Thinking about what it is that you are saying before you actually say it can be a big help.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      You are right Megan, many people have no idea of the history of people with intellectual disabilities. Glad you are helping to change that.

  • Sarah says:

    I am studying now to become a special education teacher and I get very upset when people use the “R” word or other hurtful words to others. People do not realize that those words can really hurt someone, even if they are joking around. I hope someday people will change and will stop using these unkind words.

    I really think it was great that you sent that letter to him. He shouldn’t be saying such things. You did the right thing and I hope he has stopped saying those hurtful words!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      You are right Sarah, most people aren’t aware of the history of the word “retarded” or “moron” or ….

      It’s great that you are making a difference by educating people to be more sensitive.

  • Corinne says:

    I will risk repetion just to convey how wonderfully you wrote this post. Words, labels, and blatent discrimination are horrible things and we stould all strive to watch what we say in an effort to respect all in our immediate and global communities. I went back and read your “Definitions of retarded” post after this one and the lack of awareness about discrimination of individuals with disabilities continues to shock me. You inspired me to find the urban dictionary definition you cited that brings the hurtful nature of that word to light and “liked” it in hopes that others will see and become aware of the truth. Thank you for your advocacy Mary.

  • Evow says:

    I can only repeat the other comments above this one. Excellent content and i think im not alone when i ask: do you plan to upload some more pictures on this topic by any chance? It would make this page more enjoyable. Just a thought, i hope you dont mind 🙂 Thanks for the useful post, Jennifer

  • Imelda Hoeke says:

    I so enjoyed your site. Very good content. Please continue posting such good content.

  • Ross Skafec says:

    For the ones that haven’t spent some time with this field enough – I know that the web isn’t the most reliable resource for informations. but with certanty I can say the author is correct, however weird it may look

  • Found your blog today while searching for topics for my own posts. Good info, I plan on coming back regularly

  • Good job! what a great post!

  • The neat thing about this is anyone can make the resolution not to use the word “retarded” to refer to people. It takes no money, no big exercise program–just sensitivity. Thanks for your comment Sacha.
    Mary E. Ulrich recently posted..Building Community: one grocery trip at a time

  • What you written about makes lots of sense. I pray other people feel the same way.

  • Hi Gary, of course we need to be skeptical about the government, we need to be skeptical about everything. That is part of the checks and balances. I still believe in a democracy–we are the government. One of the ways I choose to make sure things are transparent and above board is to get involved. I learned a lot about government when I was in appointed positions on boards.

    Have you ever checked into the Partners in Policymaking programs in California? you might be really interested. (or com) Let me know if you have trouble finding them.
    Mary E. Ulrich recently posted..The “R” Word- A Challenge to Bloggers

  • Gary Jordon says:

    Thanks Mary I had forgotten that those words were medical terms. I was so used to seeing them associated with the State education system. However my all time favorite negative words were thrown out at me by the children of The Antelope Valley in the state controlled public school. Those words were “four eyes”. The retort I learned(God can’t even remotely remember who told me this one)was “Four eyes are better then two.” I wish I still had some old pics of me and my gargantuan glasses. Lens implants sure help my pointed nose. hehehehe.

    Well I’m still skeptical about the government. Maybe we really do need less. But we most certainly do need a more inclusive ethics.

    Have a nice Day Mary.

  • Hmmm, I wonder who it was. I can make a guess. Good for you! Fantastic post. Now I’m going to put it out on Twitter…
    Alison Golden recently posted..8 Reasons I’m A Terrible Mommy

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks Alison. Only hint is he is a Biggy. Made me feel proud that I might have helped all of us remove some stigma from the blogasphere. He certainly never meant to hurt anyone. I think he just was using words that are common in our culture and it is a shock when he realized this was actually a medical diagnosis.

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