(Illustration|Tribune News Service)
(Illustration|Tribune News Service)

Words are undeniably a great source of power and persuasion. Words can be used to ignite the flame of rebellion, spark emotion in those we haven’t even met and tell stories that otherwise wouldn’t be heard. On the flip side, words can be used to tear someone down.

“Retard.” Every time I hear or see that word I cringe. The word has been warped, twisted and made to be synonymous with “lesser.” I feel fortunate to have grown up with the family and experiences that I did.

My parents would never use or allow any derogatory words in our house. I don’t remember hearing the word retard, or phrase, “You’re so retarded!”, until I had reached school age. As I progressed in school I was able to have experiences and friends who lead me to be sensitive towards those who were different from myself.

I was able to participate in a special education class as a peer tutor during three years of high school. This gave me an opportunity to work with my fellow classmates who had disabilities.

The people I met while in this class gave me a deeper understanding of those with disabilities. They opened my eyes and heart. The experience was unforgettable and still impacts me to this day.

I’ve heard the defenses for using these types of slurs. Those who use these phrases will often try to say that they aren’t really talking about someone who is mentally disabled, but instead are just saying something is dumb. This argument always leaves me wondering why they didn’t just use the word dumb in the first place?

Instead of using the term retard for a new game you bought that doesn’t work right, or a friend who just did something foolish, why not dive into the vast depths of the English language and choose a word that is better suited and not offensive?

Using the word retarded is not only an inaccurate description of someone with disabilities, but it is hate speech no matter how you slice it. When the word retard is used interchangeably with dumb it implies that the speaker thinks they mean the same thing.

The use of this word isolates and stereotypes an entire group of people. Those with disabilities are not lesser. They are not stupid, dumb or lame. They are people just like you and I and they deserve the same amount of respect.

I find using the word retard is no different from any other type of slur. Discrimination can come in any form and can cause serious damage to those subjected to it on a daily basis.

To you, what seems like an innocent joke about a “slow” moment your friend just had, may actually be a hurtful term for a person near you or their loved one.

Instead of using our words to tear people down we should instead use them to lift others up. Even if you’re joking with your friends, you never know who is listening.

Despite the old sticks and stones saying, words do hurt. When we choose our words carefully, we are being wise and considerate to those around us who may be affected, directly or indirectly, by a disability.

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