Spread the Word to End the Word

Dear Lady in the grocery store,

I heard you yell out a word that hit me like a wall. I stopped and lost my breath, I looked down and prayed so quickly I was surprised I even knew how to do that. I looked down to see if my son heard. I didn’t look at you…not just yet. I looked down at my young son by my side who has heard this term at least once in my presence, referring to his intellectual differences. When I was comforted to see that he hadn’t heard you (hopefully) or paid attention to you, I finally turned to you and said. “Please do not use the word retarded, it is hurtful” and then I walked away. Do you remember me?

I have heard many excuses people use for using this word.… “But I didn’t mean anyone in particular” or the person who says “oh I would never say that referring to a person with intellectual disabilities”, or even the person who says “well all retarded means is a stop in growth” (right, if it is used as a verb, but often it is used in our society as an adjective (descriptive)). Or even hearing teenagers say “oh it is just a word everyone uses”. You know, I am sorry but I don’t care about any of your excuses. What I care about is that my son may hear you. What I care about is the separateness it implies to my son. What I care about is how he feels about a word that some people use, even to this day, to describe who he is.

It is not my sensitivities or “political correctness” I am worried about, it is my son’s feelings and his rights. I am seeking the end of the use of a word that hurts and dehumanizes people, whether it was meant in that context or not. I am seeking a way to help my son as any parent would do.

Did you know that the Federal Government signed a statute that they will no longer use the term Mental Retardation in federal documents? (Public Law 111-256, Rosa’s law) 2010. Or did you know that the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) no longer uses the term mental retardation as a diagnosis?


Do you know why? As with many words in our language, eventually some of these words take on a negative connotation. We don’t call someone a “retard” if they are acting appropriately, in today’s language, we use the term to mean something (often someone) “stupid”.

As the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign says “Respectful and inclusive language is essential to the movement for the dignity and humanity of people with intellectual disabilities. However, much of society does not recognize the hurtful, dehumanizing and exclusive effects of the word “retard(ed).” It is time to address the minority slur “retard(ed)” and raise the consciousness of society to its hurtful effects.”

Look at it this way, in Alaska, many call the mounds of plant materials across the tundra “n*rhead” From Wiktionary: Etymology-From n*r +‎ head, reflecting a supposed resemblance to a black person’s head. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind this is offensive and all should use the correct term. It is a tussock. For many people, if this is called to their attention, they will change their words. (I choose to be idealistic, I believe no one intends to use words that are offensive.)

Dear lady in the grocery store and those who use this word in their everyday communication, please see that this word, as an adjective, is offensive. And just stop using it to describe someone. My son and other kids who repeat you may be listening to you. You did yell it rather loudly!

Take the pledge! Spread the Word to End the Word!



  1. How sad that someone at Safeway, which hires the disabled, is so clueless. I myself go out of my way to get in a line where a handicapped person is bagging, just to say hi to a welcome member of our society. I haven’t used that word in over 50 years, and do not tolerate it’s use. You can be assured I will say something to the lady if I ever hear such derogatory a expression when I am at Safeway, or anywhere else for that matter. I take your pledge, and will continue to work to stop the use of this term. Thanks for your article. Stay strong. Your son does not deserve anything but the kindness and love that all children should get.

  2. Thank you for taking the pledge.
    I do want to say that it was NOT a Safeway employee.

  3. I’m not saying what this person said is appropriate, but when we start to infringe upon free speech we, as a society, are falling to the level of an oppressive dictatorship.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”

    Choose your words wisely, but don’t advocate violating first amendment rights.

  4. Freedom of speech was never intended as an avenue to disparage or humiliate someone. That in itself is oppressive.

  5. I would find it both amazing and incredible if freedom of speech encompassed the “freedom to insult,denigrate or in any way undermine the dignity of another human being”. Perhaps in private one may say anything and possibly EVERYTHING that one wishes, but in a place considered “public” such as a grocery store, what would be the point or purpose in making comments that might damage or infringe upon another’s self-esteem and/or dignity?

    Furthermore, it is difficult to discover any need for speaking aloud such pronouncements. I can not begin to imagine the relevant context…In fact, both COMMON SENSE and COMMON COURTESY might suggest such a context will NEVER EXIST even in a confidential consultation with a trained specialist! Did someone happen to ask the “lady” her opinion?