Thursday, May 26, 2011

The R-Word


I have taught art and other classes to adults with developmental disabilities for over five years. I love my students and highly value my experiences with them. I have come to realize people with developmental disabilities are far from one-dimensional. They are varied individuals, and they have just as much depth as anyone else. Like any of us, they have their special talents. I have students who draw better than I do and students who call their legislators regularly to demand rights for people with developmental disabilities. I have students who are marvelous actors and students who have been in longer romantic relationships than I have. Through my students, I have witnessed true acts of dignity, strength, generosity and love. Although I am their instructor, I have learned so much more than I have taught.

I know a lot of nice people who refer to others as “retards” or “retarded.” It is so easy to use a derogatory word without considering the meaning or the people behind it. While it may not be intended, the implication is that the receiver of the putdown is as stupid as someone with developmental disabilities. But people with developmental disabilities possess the strengths and weaknesses all humans do. That is why I was so happy to see the public service announcement  “Not Acceptable” featured at the end of last night’s episode of Glee. It moved me to tears. It was intense and empowering, and I hope it will make people think before they dub someone a “retard."

The language we choose to use when referring to others is important, and we should all work on stopping the spread of hurtful stereotypes. While I do not use the r-word, and  am vocal about my distaste for it, I am definitely not perfect. I have been guilty of using labels (particularly when I’m in my car and feeling road ragey or when I am relating said road ragey incident to friends). I will work on cutting that out, if you r-word users will make an effort to remove it from your vocabulary.

For more information, visit R-Word: Spread the Word to End the Word, a website launched by the Special Olympics in 2008 to end the derogatory use of the r-word.

**Just as an aside, my students have had such an influence on me that I wish to cultivate a career working with or on behalf of persons with developmental disabilities. I have not quite figured out how to make this happen, but keep your fingers crossed for me!**

Here's to giving people the respect they deserve by breaking our bad habits and cultivating better ones!



  1. Alison! LOVE this. Very inspirational!

  2. I see your point that the word has come to be defined as a derogatory word when used towards people. I still reserve the right to use to to refer to situations.

    Proofing yearbook pages kills me when I get the pages with special needs classes. They are rough pages to proof. Then to make the portraits fit in the boxes and look as proportional as all the other sucks when I can't make it look as good. I know they understand, just as obese students understand that they look large in their portrait boxes. It's still disappointing when I cannot get it right.


  3. Thanks, Tashina! I really appreciate that!!

    Ms. A3, You are not the first person who has said something of the sort. My goal is to get people to think about what the word means, but I know it's used as shorthand and most people would never use the word when referring to someone who actually had developmental disabilities. A friend of mine told me she's not sure WHAT word to replace the r-word with when referring to certain situations because that one works. I get it; I just don't like it. :)

    Also, I guess I never thought about how much effort it must take to get each pic in a yearbook to work all the others! I'll bet it's really frustrating when you can't make them look right!