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Let's Nix the 'R' Word From our Vocabulary

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Have you ever said that something or someone is "retarded," when you really meant "stupid" or "dumb?" I have - long before I realized how hurtful and hateful that term truly is. When you refer to something as "retarded," the only ones you are insulting are the people who actually suffer from an intellectual disability and their loved ones, insinuating that retarded equates with being dumb or stupid. In fact, even the term "mental retardation" has been legally replaced with "intellectual disability," due to its offensive nature.

Back in 2012, Ann Coulter, a conservative political and social commentator, called President Barack Obama a "retard" following a presidential debate via her Twitter page. Despite the amount of backlash Coulter received regarding her statement, she did not regret it. Instead, she defended herself by saying that since she was not actually referring to someone with an intellectual disability, she is not wrong for using the term, and that she would never use it in that sense. Despite a person's intentions for using the word, it still has a negative connotation, and will likely be interpreted in the most derogatory sense.

The day after Ann posted the tweet, Special Olympics athlete, John Franklin Stephens, posted an open letter to Coulter on the Special Olympics blog. In his letter, he writes about his life as a man with Down Syndrome who has to deal with the public's negative perception of those with intellectual disabilities. He goes on to express how hurtful and insulting the "R" word really is, and that individuals, like himself, are much more than what people see on the outside. Before concluding his letter with an invitation to the Special Olympics, he tells Ann, "No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much."

Although this incident occurred nearly three years ago, it has recently been revived through the power of Facebook. The overall message is still just as important today as it was three years ago. That is the best/worst thing about Facebook, and the Internet, in general - once something has been posted, it is there forever. What better time for this event to resurface than now? We are currently living during a time of progression, equality and acceptance, so it is only appropriate that this debate has once again been brought up.

I understand that those who use the "R" word usually do not mean any harm by it, but they are also unaware how hurtful the term actually is. At one point, I was one of those people; I loosely used phrases such as, "You're so retarded" jokingly with my friends and family, never thinking twice about what I said. A lot has changed in the last few years, though. This is now a topic that I feel quite strongly about, and that is why I have completely eliminated the word "retarded" from my vocabulary. The same goes for other words that are commonly used in a negative sense, such as "gay" and "faggot." Why do we feel the need to call someone or something any of these nasty terms, when we really mean stupid, dumb, pointless, silly, etc.?

Now, I do not want to dictate which words people should or should not use. I only want to encourage them to educate themselves on controversial terms and their origins, and to be more conscious of what they say, because you never know how you are going to be perceived.
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