Seidman is not alone in her desire to see "the R-word" go the way of racial slurs once considered acceptable. More than 250,000 people have pledged online to take part in the Special Olympics' campaign to "spread the word to end the word." Many of them are expected to participate in Wednesday's annual day of action through pledge drives, fundraisers and individual acts to raise awareness.
For her part, Seidman created a short video that explains what the word means to her. She posted it on her blog, Love That Max, and share it through social media. Although people who know her know where she stands (and not everyone agrees), she hopes that the video will make people think about the weight of the word.
"It starts with thinking about a word, but I want it to translate into the way people treat others with disabilities," she said. "It's about helping to see people with cognitive impairments as great people, as competent people, as people who can contribute in so many ways to our society."
Launched by two college students in 2009, the campaign is gaining traction not only among the citizenry, but in the halls of government and the medical community. President Obama passed Rosa's Law in 2010, which eliminates the use of the words "retarded" and "retardation" in federal health, education and labor laws.
The bill changed the terms "mental retardation" to "intellectual disability" and "mentally retarded individual" to "individual with an intellectual disability." This shift made the terms more consistent with language already used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations, and the White House. Currently, 43 states have passed similar legislation or have similar bills pending, according to the Special Olympics.
But policy is just one part of the strategy. The much larger goal targets social stigma and negative perceptions surrounding people with intellectual disabilities.
"You can't ban terminology any more than you can ban thought," said Dr. Stephen B. Corbin, senior vice president for community impact of the Special Olympics. "But we know that using bad language contributes to the dehumanization and stigmatization of others, which incites treating them differently."
On this point, some opponents of the movement agree with its supporters: Intellectual disability still carries a subconscious cultural taboo which attaches to the word used to describe it. But those who believe the movement is misguided and risky say the stigma will keep attaching to new terms until we purge negative connotations from the condition itself.
"All of this reflects the cycle of word taboo," said Christopher M. Fairman, a professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University and author of a book subtitled "Word Taboo and Protecting Our First Amendment Liberties." "We have witnessed this happen as the clinical diagnostic term 'mental retardation' became the offensive slur 'retard.' And so we will shift again, this time to intellectual disability."
Already, derogatory use of "ID" is starting to pop up, he said.
"By focusing on the word itself, you reinforce the negative connotation and actually strengthen the taboo," Fairman said. "The focus should be on the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. This breaks down the cultural taboo that creates word taboo in the first place."
I say "**** you, hawkeye".
If interest groups want to pour resources into cleaning up unintentional insults, more power to them; we surely would benefit from greater kindness to one another. But we must not let "retard" go without a requiem. If the goal is to protect intellectually disabled individuals from put-downs and prejudice, it won't succeed. New words of insult will replace old ones.
Words are ideas, and we should be reluctant to surrender any of them. Freedom of expression has come at a dear price, and it is not worth abridging, even so we can get along a little better. That's one F-word we really can't do without.
.retards are still dead weight in this collective, and they bring nothing to the table that makes be want to either hang out with them or sympathize blahblahblah
I don't even need to read the rest.
She's interesting and intelligent and she contributes to the goddamn collective.
What if one of your kids were in an accident and suffered some serious brain trauma. Would you kill them for the benefit of the collective?
How about the nerve that activates when faced with arrogant assholes? I think it might be that nerve.
I hope your children have more compassion than you do.
Use of the word by hawkeye is sickening.
Retardation is a legitimate word that has accumulated a lot of weight. Retardation happens in chemistry. It is not an evil word by itself.
Surely you don't want me to describe vomiting.
I rather suspect that it is unresolved emotions re Mo that is the nerve that I hit, but OK.
Edited to add: just so you won't have to worry about him breathing any of your air - after years of bullying and being made aware that people like you looked at people like him as 'less than' and 'not worthy' - he killed himself. So you and your collective won't have to worry about pulling the trigger on him Hawkeye. Once less 'retard' for you to worry about.