The R-Word

The R-Word became associated with intellectual disabilities in 1895 in order to replace idiot, moron, and imbecile. At first, all of these words were neutral, medical diagnostic labels, but became insults as society adopted them into casual speech. The R-Word was not derogatory until the 1960s.

In 2009, the Special Olympics started a campaign called Spread the Word to End the Word. Created by youths with and without intellectual disabilities, the campaign aims to “promote the positive contributions people with intellectual disabilities make to communities around the world.” In March 2009, they held the first Spread the Word to End the Word National Awareness Day, now an annual event. They ask people to sign a pledge to eliminate “retard” from their vocabulary.

John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympics representative with Down syndrome said, “So, 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 none of you would ever want to be.”

October 2010, Obama signed Rosa’s Law, requiring the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” in all federal records to be replaced with “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability.”

The use of the R-Word in Gruesome Playground Injuries enables us to understand Kayleen’s environment and attitude. It is likely that the word was normalized in her home or that she chooses to use it for impact. However, considering the wide amount of insults she uses, she most likely does not understand how offensive the word is. It also reflects Doug’s understanding, as he combats her usage of the word and eventually gives up.

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