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You may have missed it, but March 2, 2016, was a “day of awareness” in a national campaign to stop the use of the word “retarded” and its variants. As a medical label for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the R-word used to be neutral, clinical, incapable of giving offense. However, as we all know, this word has long since been put to other uses. “Retarded” and “retard” today are slurs, plain and simple. Both young and old use it as a weapon of derision. It clearly does the job. As a father of a child with intellectual disabilities, hearing the word, in any context, feels like a sharp, vicious punch in the gut.

So, what’s wrong with ‘retard’? I can only tell you what it means to my family and I. It means exclusion. It perpetuates a stereotype and stigma that people, who are different, are somehow less important, or worse, worthy of ridicule and scorn. I know that most people who casually use this word do not see themselves as heartless and do not see “retardation” as anything to get worked up about. In fact I know many people, who are highly intelligent, kind and compassionate, who use the word, without malice or intent to harm. This issue, however, is not about intent, but rather affect. Before we had our son, I am certain that I used this word casually, and probably found humor, in certain situations, when it was used by others. I'm now embarrassed and saddened by the thought that my use, or acquiescence, of the slur could have hurt others.

“Spread the Word to End the Word,” is a national campaign to inspire respect and acceptance through raising the consciousness of society about the R-word and how hurtful words and disrespect can be toward people and their families with intellectual disabilities. Help me Spread the Word to End the Word. I invite you to be a fan of respect and join me in an on-going campaign to eliminate the use of the R-word completely. Over 500,000 people, worldwide, have pledged their support online since the campaign launched in 2009 to end the use of the R-word.

Visit www.r-word.org and take the pledge. Tell everyone you know to take the pledge. Together we can make our community kinder and more accepting for people, and families of people, with intellectual and developmental disabilities

CHRISTOPHER FERRO

Springettsbury Township

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