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The Effects of the R-Word

Advocates explain why the R-word is so hurtful when used in jokes or as part of everyday speech.

The R-word is EXCLUSIVE

“What’s wrong with "retard"? I can only tell you what it means to me and people like me when we hear it. It means that the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like you and something that none of you would ever want to be. We are something outside the "in" group. We are someone that is not your kind. I want you to know that it hurts to be left out here, alone.”
– John Franklin Stephens, Special Olympics Virginia athlete and Global Messenger


“Words matter. People don't need to scoff at others to make a point. Everyone has a gift and the world would be better off if we recognized it.”
– Tim Shriver, CEO of Special Olympics

The R-word equates intellectual disability with being DUMB OR STUPID

When saying the R-word, “What we mean is that he is as stupid as someone who is mentally handicapped, and we mean that in the most derogatory sense. The implication is that the only characteristic of mentally handicapped individuals is their stupidity.”
– Crystal, Stanford, CA

The R-word spreads HURT

“It is wrong to pain people with your language. Especially, when you have already been made aware of your oral transgression's impact. Make no mistake about it: WORDS DO HURT! And when you pepper your speak with "retard" and "retarded," you are spreading hurt.”
– John C. McGinley, actor and star of the hit TV show “Scrubs”

The R-word is OFFENSIVE

“The word retard is considered hate speech because it offends people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as the people that care for and support them. It alienates and excludes them. It also emphasizes the negative stereotypes surrounding people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; the common belief that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities should be segregated, hidden away from society, which, in my opinion, is really old fashioned.”
– Karleigh Jones, Special Olympics New Zealand athlete

The R-word is INCORRECT

“When you say the "R" word it makes people feel bad and it hurts my feelings and I don't want to hear you guys say it. Instead, you can call me a leader, a hero, or a human being, but please don't call me the "R" word.”
– Dony Knight, Special Olympics Oregon athlete

The R-word is DEROGATORY

“Because the word has become a casual description of anything negative or flawed, ‘retarded’ is no longer considered an appropriate way to describe people with intellectual disabilities. And any use of the word, even when used as slang and not intended to be offensive, is hurtful - because it will always be associated with people who have disabilities.”
– Sara Mitton, Board Member, Treasure Valley Down Syndrome Association

The R-word fosters LONELINESS

“It hurts and scares me when I am the only person with intellectual disabilities on the bus and young people start making “retard” jokes or references. Please put yourself on that bus and fill the bus with people who are different from you. Imagine that they start making jokes using a term that describes you. It hurts and it is scary.”
– John Franklin Stephens, Special Olympics Virginia athlete and Global Messenger

The R-word is HATE SPEECH

“I don’t think you understand how much you hurt others when you hate. And maybe you don’t realize that you hate. But that’s what it is; your pre-emptive dismissal of them [people with intellectual disabilities], your dehumanization of them, your mockery of them, it’s nothing but another form of hate. It’s more hateful than racism, more hateful than sexism, more hateful than anything.”
– Soeren Palumbo, student, advocate, brother to a sister with an intellectual disability.