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Deleting the “R” Word

August 20, 2010

This past week Jennifer Anniston made the pages of online celebrity gossip sites for her use of the “R” word, ”retard”  While Anniston’s intent was harmless and her use was representative of a now passé cultural slang term, the gaffe and resulting news story serves as a good public reminder to delete the “R” word from our vocabulary. 

The history of name changes of “The Arc”, a widely respected organization advocating for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, evidences the special needs community’s desire to lose the “R” word from our national language.  The Arc, originally formed in the early 1950’s as “National Association for Retarded Children” was created to advocate for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  During the 50’s and through the late 20th century, the term “retarded” was commonplace and acceptable for use when referring to an individual with cognitive limitations.  Over the past 50 years the national organization’s name changed several times finally dropping the use of “retarded” in the early 90’s.  Since The Arc’s 1992 name change, it has become old-fashioned and now offensive to refer to any person or disability as “retarded.  Today, The Arc describes the individuals it benefits as having intellectual or developmental disabilities.  This description serves as an example of how anyone should refer to the attributes of an individual or population set with these differences.   While some people still use the “MR” abbreviation (short for mentally retarded or mental retardation)  when referring to a diagnosis or disability, it is advisable to avoid using any term that relates to the words “retarded” and “retardation”.  For more on disability etiquette see the “Politically Correct Wording” post on this blog:

–          Amy Fenton Lee

  1. Jackie permalink

    I agree.. Isn’t it a shame that the medical term is actually still properly named “mental retardation” or MR even though the term today seems offensive to so many?

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