Why the R-Word Is the R-Slur

Practice Inclusion: End the Use of the R-Word
A group of unified students promoting Spread the Word

The R-word, also known as the R-slur, is a hurtful term that remains prevalent throughout social media, according to a Kantar Social Listening study. The research shows that when social media users are posting about people with intellectual disabilities, 7 in every 10 of those posts are negative, and 6 in 10 contain a slur.

The R-word is a form of hate speech that stands for “retard,” “retarded,” or other offensive words ending in “-tard.” While “mental retardation” was originally introduced as a medical term in 1961 for people with intellectual disabilities, in the decades since, the R-word has become an insult used all too commonly in everyday language. Those who use the R-word often do so with little regard for the pain it causes people with intellectual disabilities—and the exclusion it perpetuates in our society.

Rosas Law

In 2010, President Barack Obama signed “Rosa’s Law,” which changed “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability” in U.S. federal law. Inspired by 9-year-old Rosa Marcellino, the law was a key milestone to promoting inclusive, people-first language.

As the world engages in an intense conversation about the importance of inclusion, Special Olympics and Best Buddies urge everyone to play an active role in promoting acceptance by ending the use of the R-word, which continues to push people with intellectual disabilities to the sidelines.

The R-Word Is a Form of Bullying

Kantar reviewed nearly 50 million social posts in the U.S. over 2 years. Over two-thirds of posts about people with intellectual disabilities were negative and nearly 29 million contained slurs (i.e., using the word “retard(ed)” or other words combined with “-tard”).

Spreading the R-word continues to hurt people with intellectual disabilities—and whether intended or not, is a form of bullying. Using the R-word is the same as using any slur against a minority group. Eliminating this word is a step toward respect for all.

Take Action To End the R-Word

We invite you to participate in the Spread the Word: Inclusion campaign, by taking concrete action to end the exclusion caused by the use of the R-word.

The Spread the Word: Inclusion campaign, created in 2009, engages schools, organizations, and communities by urging young people around the world to take a stand and help change the conversation. The campaign highlights the harmful effects the R-word has on the millions of people with intellectual disabilities, as well as their families and communities.

“As all conversation increasingly migrates online, social media channels should be a safe space for people with intellectual disabilities, their families, and friends, free of social abuse and stigma. But the alarming usage of slurs and negative posts shows us our efforts have really just begun.”
Soeren Palumbo, Co-founder, Spread the Word: Inclusion Campaign

The campaign was combined with a simple call-to-action to spread the word-to-end the word. As of September 2020, more than 820,000 people around the world have taken the pledge online to end the use of the R-word, and millions more have signed banners and petitions.

You can help people with intellectual disabilities feel included, accepted, and embraced for who they are. You can help others see the person instead of the disability. You can create a more compassionate, accepting world. Make your pledge for inclusion today!

Kantar Study Findings
70%
of social media posts are negative toward people with ID
60%
of these negative posts contain an R-slur
200M
people with ID globally continue to be marginalized
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