In the latest controversy this year over the use of the word retard or retarded, Jennifer Aniston used the word “retard” self-deprecatingly on Regis and Kelly Live while describing how she plays dress-up for a living. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a retard as a mentally disabled person. From Wikipedia: Mental retardation (MR) is a generalized disorder, characterized by significantly impaired cognitive functioning and deficits in two or more adaptive behaviors with onset before the age of 18. However, every school kid knows it is a hurtful insult meaning stupid and weird.
The Special Olympics Movement issued a statement in response: “Special Olympics is always disappointed when the R-word is used, especially by someone who is influential to society,” the statement reads. “The pervasive use of the R-word, even in an off the cuff self-deprecating manner, dehumanizes people with intellectual disabilities and perpetuates painful stereotypes that are a great source of suffering and negative stigma.”
The organization added, “We hope everyone will take our pledge to stop using the R-word and promote the inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities at www.r-word.org.”
Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Stephen Colbert
Earlier this year, Sarah Palin called for Rahm Emanuel’s firing after it was reported that he’d called liberal groups opposed to health care reform “f*cking retards,” but she then defended Rush Limbaugh’s use of the same word as satire. Stephen Colbert later weighed in to Palin’s defense of Limbaugh.
Ian Birrell’s thoughtful commentary asks “When did people with disabilities cease to matter in the battle against bigotry?” His article enumerates the many uses in popular culture, from the 17 slurs in Tropic Thunder to the Black-Eyed Peas’ song “Let’s Get Retarded.”
Government Use of Terminology
The term is currently under attack by educators and other professionals, believed to cause stigma in both the intellectually and developmentally disabled, and their loved ones.
New York is one of the few states that have not yet removed the phrase from the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD). 44 other states have chosen to use the term intellectually disabled.
Rosa’s Law, a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate earlier this year, and currently being considered in the House of Representatives, would amend language in federal law to remove the term “mental retardation” from federal health, education and labor laws.