Retire the hurtful R word

Retire the hurtful R-word My how language does change. Remember when people were called mentally retarded, mental defectives, mentally-handicapped, people with special needs? It can be hard to keep up with current "correct" terms. Thankfully, Canada see

My how language does change.

Remember when people were called mentally retarded, mental defectives, mentally-handicapped, people with special needs? It can be hard to keep up with current “correct” terms.

Thankfully, Canada seems to be ahead of our American neighbours around the hurtful use of the word “retard” although we are not blameless. Go to the web and check out Palin’s Campaign Against the ‘R-word’ Hits Snag with Limbaugh.” There is a campaign to end the use of the ‘R word,’ largely driven by Special Olympics. Another site to explore is Glee’s Lauren Potter Fights The R-Word in Powerful YouTube Campaign.

I have also observed the rather awkward grasping for words when speaking about disability with the older generation who don’t want to offend but just learn one latest “term” only to find that it has been replaced by another. If you are saying or doing something kind, respectful and heartfelt, don’t be afraid to make a vocabulary blunder Ð but don’t be afraid to consider something new either. I think it’s wrong to use language to beat people up Ð and that works both ways.

A really good rule of thumb is to respectfully refer to the person first and then the disability. Thus, Yukon Association for Community Living advocates for people with intellectual disabilities and their families; and some of your passengers/students/customers/patients/employees and neighbours are people with intellectual disabilities.

What we grapple with, even within our own personal lives and our organization, is a tendency to refer to all people with intellectual disabilities as “kids” and to see them as such. The word isn’t in-and-of- itself offensive. We most often do this with fondness and the best of intentions. But most adults with intellectual disabilities understand, on some level, the difference between grown-ups and kids. Many workers, mentors and parents also try to encourage development towards more mature and adult comportment and activities that will help with their meaningful inclusion in community.

This can result in many people with intellectual disabilities wanting to be considered as “adult” but being denied the opportunities to see themselves in that light and to learn that some behaviours are those of a child and have to be left behind in the process. There is a vast difference between “childlike” and “childish.”

So when we use the word “kids” as a blanket term to refer to adults with intellectual disabilities it undermines the idea that people can grow up. That’s sad Ð to be perpetually consigned to growing older, but never growing up.

In the end, we’re all just folks.

Vicki Wilson

Yukon Association for

Community Living

Whitehorse