Campaigns work to end casual use of the “R-word”


Skylar Isdale

Erica Brody, left, a senior and member of Best Buddies, interacts with Penny Mowery in the SAC ballroom Sunday afternoon. Best Buddies is promoting the campaign “Spread the Word, to End the Word” that will hopefully end the usage of the “R-word.”

Andrew Messamore

After prominent usage of the word “retarded” in the popular movie “Tropic Thunder,” the disabled community has strongly increased its efforts to end use of the word, Jim Patton, faculty adviser for Best Buddies UT, said.

Tears, laughter and applause greeted those affected by the word “retarded,” who spoke out at the “Spread the Word to End the Word” event Sunday evening, hosted by Best Buddies UT. Best Buddies is an organization that assists people with intellectual and developmental disabilities by pairing them with volunteer “buddies.”

The organization invited Austinites to speak before activists, UT students and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the Student Activities Center ballroom to help end the usage of the “R-word.” The word is widely used, but most do not realize how insulting its usage is to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Patton said.

“I don’t think a lot of the people who use the word ‘retarded’ really know how hurtful it can be,” Patton said. “There’s no question how powerful language is, and when someone in your family has Down syndrome, that word resonates and carries a much deeper meaning.”

Patton said by having people affected by the “R-word” speak, Best Buddies hoped the audience would be able to see the living effect of the pejorative use of “retarded.”

“A lot of us have been campaigning for the end of the word ‘retarded’ for 30 years, but it doesn’t matter how many people I talk to,” Patton said. “It’s so much more powerful to hear from the people that are affected.”

The movement has had a major victory in the passage of “Rosa’s Law,” which has removed the term “mentally retarded” from all official federal documents.

Similar legislation has also eliminated the usage of “mentally retarded” on the state level in Texas. Boyce Gundrlch, a person with intellectual disabilities who spoke at the Capitol against the word, said he hopes “retarded” will soon fall out of public use.

“I believe the ‘R-word’ should not be used at all,” Gundrlch said. “If I can [campaign to] stop the ‘R-word’ from being used, then anybody else can.”

Biochemistry senior Srinath Senguttuvan, who has been a member of Best Buddies UT for a year, said people often have little contact with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, causing them to misunderstand the word “retarded.”

“When I joined Best Buddies it really opened my eyes, because before I had few interactions with [people with intellectual and developmental disabilities],” Senguttuvan said. “Just interacting with my buddy once or twice a month does a lot, and though changing the usage of ‘retarded’ is slow, if everyone does their part it can happen.”

Helena Rogers, an Austin resident with intellectual disabilities who spoke at the event, said the word “retarded” has been an impediment, but that she still will overcome the difficulties associated with the word.

“I have been made fun of by school kids since I was born, and I was fired from a job for not being able to work fast enough,” Rogers said. “But I’ve learned to not let my difficulties affect my greatness. A person is a person no matter how small, and deep down we are like anybody else.”