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NPR ran a story tonight: “Rethinking ‘Retarded’: Should It Leave The Lexicon?” (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112479383).
I wrote a response:
“You’re such a retard” implies, “you’re acting the way I imagine someone with an intellectual disability would act.” “That’s so retarded,” a more passive usage, implies, “That’s messed up in a way that reminds me of people with intellectual disabilities.” And, in both cases, the implication is that it is a bad thing to act the way someone with an intellectual disability would act. I have a three-year old daughter with Down syndrome. She has introduced me to a world of children and adults who often go unnoticed by the rest of society. Many of them learn more slowly. In my daughter’s case, her physical development is delayed. And yet my daughter also teaches me about joy and compassion and patience and any number of virtues I hope to cultivate in myself, any number of virtues I hope to see in the world around me. No one is thinking of my daughter when they use the word “retard.” And yet that word only reinforces our culture’s history of failing to see the value of individuals who are outside the norm. To remove “retard” and “retarded” from everyday usage would be one more step towards recognizing people with Down syndrome and other genetic differences as whole and valued human beings, with much to offer.