In a social media video post, two of the Kardashian sisters, Khloe and Kourtney, refer to each other as the R word. There was a lot of backlash to the videos. Of course, official apologies followed from both sisters. However, the backlash brings a larger issue into focus. Namely, at issue is the use of the R word and other pejorative words that serve to harm the disabled community.
Whether or not the use of the R word was directed at the disabled community or not, it’s harmful. Also, it’s hateful. It reduces people to nothing more than their disabilities and that is not okay.
The R Word: A History Lesson
Until the 1960s, it was commonplace and socially accepted to use negative words to describe people with intellectual disabilities. For instance:
In the 1960s, there was a shift in the words used to describe intellectual disabilities. Advocates pushed for the term “Mental Retardation.” Retardation is defined as:
“the action of delaying or slowing the progress or development of something.”
Twenty years later, at some point in the 1980s, the use of the R word as a derogatory term became more prevalent. Similarly to the words above, the R word developed negative associations and became an insult rather than a diagnosis. Instead of being used to describe intellectual disabilities, the R word was used synonymously with other pejorative words, such as:
- Out of control
A Movement to Ban the R Word
The disabled community has come together to ban the use of the R word. Indeed, there is now an educational campaign online. To start, the goal of the campaign is to educate people to see past negative labels. After all, people with disabilities are more than their disability! Banning the use of the R word ensures that people see that.
The use of the R is wholly unacceptable. It has no place in modern society.
Don’t Say This; Say That
Some people may struggle to understand how their word choices impact others, but word choice is very important. The words we use to describe people affects the way we think about them. Furthermore, it’s not about being “politically correct” because the term politically correct in itself is typically used derisively. Rather, it’s about using language that doesn’t diminish, belittle, or undervalue people.
There are many examples, such as:
Don’t say this: handicapped/wheelchair parking spots
Say this: accessible parking spaces
Don’t say this: Handicapped washroom
Say this: accessible washroom or even family washroom
Don’t say this: mentally handicapped or mentally retarded
Say this: intellectually disabled
Don’t say this: cripple
Say this: person with a disability
Don’t say this: suffers from… the victim of…. or confined to a wheelchair
Say this: person with a disability, person who uses a wheelchair
Person-first language puts people ahead of disabilities. And, that’s the way it should be. Disabilities don’t define the person. In fact, their disability is only a small piece of what makes a person. For instance, they are people who:
- Play piano
- Look after pets
- Have jobs
- Love fashion
- Have hobbies
- Play an active role in the community
And, they are also people who happen to have disabilities.
In conclusion, when it comes to using the R word, don’t. Furthermore, the R word is hateful and it has no place in our society. It only serves to harm people with disabilities. It’s insulting. In a society that purports to celebrate differences, using the R word sets us all back. So, learn from Khloe and Kourtney’s mistake, and do as the Kardashian sisters have done and ban the use of the R word. Finally, by eliminating harmful words from your vocabulary you help build an inclusive community.