Sometimes people don't think about the impact their words have on other people, but words do hurt.  Using the R-word to describe people with intellectual disabilities, or even using the R-word in ANY manner, is hurtful and disrespectful. 

In an ideal world, labels would not exist, but unfortunately they do and language choices can have a powerful impact on impressions and attitudes. As language has evolved, in 2004, Special Olympics changed its official terminology from "mental retardation" to "intellectual disabilities" for two reasons:

First, as an athlete-led movement, Special Olympics responded to a call for a change from its athletes, who felt deeply the negative connotations and perceptions of the term mental retardation.

Second, updating our terminology brings the Special Olympics movement more in line with the international community, which has used various terms (including intellectual disabilities) rather than mental retardation for many years.

As a global organization, Special Olympics recognizes intellectual disabilities as the most widely accepted and least objectionable term that is synonymous with mental retardation, and wants other organizations and people to do the same.  This shift is not the first time the Special Olympics movement updated its terminology. When Special Olympics was founded in 1968, it was common for our population to be referred to as "mentally retarded" or simply "retarded." As language and sensitivities evolved, the movement made a change – still in effect today – to "people-first" language, referring to people with intellectual disabilities.

In 2006, Special Olympics Texas assembled a group of experts from different fields to work together so that people statewide will recognize this new terminology and also embrace it.  The MR/ID Committee shares a common goal of banning the "R-word" from use and educating people about proper terminology.  The group discussed numerous steps for doing so, namely, changing references from "mental retardation" to "intellectual disabilities" and educating people not to use the R-word.  The Committee decided they could make a great impact by changing society's perception of and increasing their understanding of how words hurt.  They then formed a more focused Sub-Committee to begin planning a public awareness campaign to ban the "R-word" and influence usage of proper terminology when speaking about people with intellectual disabilities.

Resources

The Spread the Word to End the R-Word website

R-Word Toolkit
(A guide to help promote the message.)

Action Kit
(Event and Activation Ideas)