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Ending use of the R-word

February 10, 2010 |  2:46 pm

SpecialOlympicsFirst the president made a wisecrack about the Special Olympics and then his chief of staff called opposition to the healthcare reform plan "retarded."

Advocates for people with intellectual disabilities have long sought to banish the term "retard" from common use. Officials for the Special Olympics, for example, have launched a public awareness campaign to eliminate the pejorative use of the words "retard" and "retarded."

The message may be seeping out. Tuesday, the American Psychiatric Assn. announced its first draft of a new edition of the text book that defines mental illnesses and proposed replacing the term "mental retardation" with "intellectual disability." The latter term, the APA noted, is now used by the Department of Education and other disciplines.

Government bodies, too, are taking steps to discourage the R-words. Last year Ohio passed a bill that prohibits use of the term in county boards and departments. Other states are considering similar actions. And late last year, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) introduced Rosa’s Law, a bill that would eliminate the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from some federal laws.

"Mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" are terms that were, at one time, not considered objectionable. But they are now, and there are other, more acceptable, terms to describe people with lower-than-normal IQ. The Special Olympics organization is holding a "Spread the word to end the word" day March 3. You can pledge to support the idea at this website.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Special Olympics