California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

‘Retard’ Is And Will Always Be An Insult

Being mentally handicapped is not something to make fun of. This kind of behavior is childish and deeply dehumanizes others. 

My oldest brother’s name is Danny. Danny works two jobs and plays golf and volleyball in his spare time.

He can quote just about every Disney movie word for word and does a spot on Captain Jack Sparrow impersonation. He is both smart and loving, and he knows just the right way to put a smile on your face every single day.

Danny is the essence of kindness and gentleness, and at the age of three, he was diagnosed with autism. His autism does not define him. It is not his label.

“Spread the word to end the word” is a social media campaign that is working to abolish the use of a word that is wildly misused, misunderstood and inappropriate in today’s society. Mental retardation was once a diagnosis for people with intellectual disabilities, but is no longer an acceptable term to use in any circumstance.

So stop saying “retard” in a comical, derogatory way or in a way that labels someone because it’s not correct. It’s certainly not funny, frankly it’s just ignorant.

In fact, the technical term “mental retardation” was removed from federal health, education and labor policy and was replaced with the phrase “individual with an intellectual disability” and “intellectual disability,” according to This was a bill signed by President Barack Obama in Oct. 2010. This means that the use of the R word is politically incorrect.

According to Beth Brennan, the associate dean in the graduate school of education, director of the special education program and founding co- director for the Autism and Communication center at Cal Lutheran, the term “mental retardation” was created to identify people with cognitive differences.

“What happens is people begin to use these terms in other ways. Negative ways, because there is a certain connotation surrounding them and that’s what happened with the term mental retardation,” Brennan said. “People use it in completely erroneous, wrong and negative ways.”

Beyond being politically incorrect, this word targets and insults a community of wonderful and beautifully unique individuals. There is so much more to an individual than what they struggle with.

So moving away from words like the R word, that label a person for what they have and not who they are, is a step in the right direction to paying the proper respect the special needs community deserves.

The “spread the word to end the word” campaign provided an opportunity for those who have been effected by this word to share their story online. shared a variety of compelling stories on this subject.

“My beautiful girl, the light of my life, now deals with being called many awful things by her peers, including the “R word”. If they’d take the time to get to know her, they’d see that she is many things (smart, beautiful, caring, kind hearted, and so much more) but, instead, they choose to see just her issues and use outdated terms as a way to hurt her,” said a Special Olympics mother in support of the campaign.

I think a lot of the time people who use this word are not considering what it would be like to struggle with an intellectual disability, or have a loved one with special needs.

Labeling someone with this word, or even using it in a joking way to insult a friend, is both hurtful and degrading. I have seen first-hand the kind of harm this word, and general disrespect for people with special needs, can cause.

I mentioned Danny’s Autism last in his wonderful list of characteristics because it is not what defines him. Autism is not his label, and shouldn’t be the only thing people see in him when they meet him.

However, this is not always the case. As the Special Olympics mom said, words are often used as a label or an insult to hurt individuals with special needs.

“When ‘retard’ and ‘retarded’ are used as synonyms for ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’ by people without disabilities, it only reinforces painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities being less valued members of humanity,” according to

Before using the R word in any context, please take into consideration the obstacles that individuals with intellectual disabilities have had to overcome in their lifetime.

Calling someone a retard or even using it in a humorous way is unacceptable. Ask yourself, is it really that funny?

Alli Barton
Staff Writer

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