How I Approached A Co-worker About Using The “R” Word


We are all at fault of the occasional slip of the tongue. You know what I mean, the accidental swear word that slips out in front of your kids or the sometimes awkward “foot in the mouth” incident. We are human and we all make mistakes. But what if the word we are saying, holds a stigma of damaged, broken, delay and downright negativity surrounding being different.

The word retarded is used so casually by some in day to day conversation. You hear people saying it in reference to foolish behavior, music, television, etc., you name it, and I bet you have heard it used in many different contexts. 

Let me tell you where it was derived from. It came about as a means of defining an individual’s mental disability. It’s a word, in my opinion, that holds a great deal of disrespect.

I am a mother to a child with severe special needs and have had the “R” word said to me in reference to my daughter’s disability. I will never forget that moment, it will forever be burned into my memory. Thinking about it still turns my stomach into knots, but I have taken away a positive approach to educate anyone I hear using it.  This is exactly how I handled a co-worker who used it in a conversation with me.

I calmly interjected our conversation with, “do you know my daughter Olivia has Cerebral Palsy?” This was completely off topic, but I wanted her undivided attention. I continued to share with her our story of a lady who asked me, “is your daughter retarded?”. I explained how that word, the “R” word, holds so much disdain and disrespect and I would appreciate if she refrained from using it.

Never did I witness someone so remorseful. She felt terrible and apologized perfusly. I told her there were no hard feelings, but appreciated her apology. By sharing our story, my hope is it will forever be tied, in her mind to that word. I hope every time the “R” word pops into her mind, an image of my daughter follows. She will see her beautiful face, bright smile and loving eyes and remember how this one word disrespects, insults and holds a great deal of ugliness.


And I hope every person who reads this post will learn from it, make a positive move forward, and spread the word to end the word! Let’s be change folks! Look at that beautiful face. Doesn’t she deserve to live in a world where being different shouldn’t mean being delayed, damaged or broken? Because each time you use the “R” word, whether or not you realize it, you are championing that notion.