Retard, Handicap, Spa, Spastic
They're just words, or so I'm told. If you say you're offended by their use then you're too thin skinned or too PC.
So why the visceral reaction?
I have a sister who has an intellectual disability, she is the light of my world, she has made me and makes me want to be a better person. Call me a bitch and I don't care, call her a retard and chances are I will skin you alive. The reason? I can stand up for myself, I can take in your insult, I can decide you're not worth the time of day and I can get the hell out of dodge. Insult my sister for her disability and you're pretty much the type of coward who only picks on the vulnerable.
As bad as directly insulting someone with a disability, is using their disability as an insult against other people.
Last night Ann Coulter tweeted "I highly approve of Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard". Coulter intended on insulting President Obama by calling him a retard - frankly like the letter writer below I also did wonder if she had considered other words but was worried about the backlash. I was livid and finding it hard to verbalise my anger at this happening. So I'm going to ask you to follow this link to the Special Olympics, where John Franklin Stephens, a global ambassador for the Special Olympics articulates his feelings on it far better than I ever could. By the way John has Down Syndrome.
'Retard' and words like it have evolved from being medical defining terms into mainstream as insults, believe it or not I've even heard the term 'Down Syndrome' flung around as an insult. We are told time and time again: 'they're just words', 'we're only havin' a laugh'. We are told that only assholes use the term 'retard'. I don't believe that's the case judging by some of the people I've heard use it. Regardless of who said it or how they meant it, the words are doing far greater damage than people think. The use of such words exclude people with disabilities as a different group, they tell them 'you're different, you are not like us, you're strange, in fact you're so strange we're going to use the term that we think describes you to insult someone else'. Such words tell people with disabilities that they are of so little worth that we only use them to insult others. The use of such words leads to further societal marginalisation of an already marginalised group.
I'll end by quoting the above John Franklin Stephens as once again he puts it far more succinctly than I can:
"I get the joke - the irony - that only dumb and shallow people are using a term that means dumb and shallow. The problem is, it is only funny if you think a "retard" is someone dumb and shallow. I am not those things, but every time the term is used it tells young people that it is OK to think of me that way and to keep me on the outside.
That is why using "retard" is a big deal to people like me."