Students should pledge to abolish “r-word”

Beginning on March 14, the Wake Forest Chapter of Best Buddies and the Learning Assistance Center will host “Spread the Word to End the Word Week,” a campaign to eliminate “retard(ed)” from everyday usage. 

The Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation began the “Spread the Word to End the Word” initiative in 2009 with the support of the Special Olympics and Best Buddies International. Currently, 200 organizations from around the world support the campaign, and nearly 600,000 people have taken the pledge.

We, the Editorial Board of the Old Gold & Black, encourage students to take the pledge to stop using the “r-word” or at least consider its negative implications.

We understand that any movement to ban a word infringes on free speech, and we respect the importance of free speech in an academic setting as an indispensable tool for the pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

However, the “r-word” has not been an academically acceptable word since 2010. President Barack Obama enacted Bill S. 2781, or Rosa’s Law, which replaced “mental retardation” with “mental disability” as a legitimate classification across all disciplines. Even before the signing of the bill into law, many considered the “r-word” as outdated and strictly pejorative. Therefore, the “r-word” holds no place in academic discourse here at Wake Forest University.

It is well known that many use the “r-word” solely as an insult similar to “stupid” or “dumb.” Typically, when one uses the “r-word,” they mean no malice toward people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. But they practice negligence when they use the word; they fail to take a step back and consider the number and diversity of people that have been, at one time or another, labeled with that word.

According to the United States Census Bureau, one in five Americans have a disability. These people may be our family members and friends. They do not deserve to be associated with adjectives such as “stupid” or “dumb:” for many of us know that they are anything but these things.

Instead of negligence, we should actively pursue language alternatives that recognize the person before the disability. One simple example is that a “disabled man” would rather be called a “man living with disabilities.” This man’s disability is not a burden, but rather a facet of their identity equal in importance to race, religion and sexuality.

The push to create a more inclusive environment for those with disabilities is a global concern which requires effort and cooperation to achieve desired results.

According to UNESCO, 90 percent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not go to school.

Even in the United States, people with disabilities face continued discrimination in the workplace, in spite of the fact that accommodations cost “absolutely nothing” to make in 56 percent of cases and typically around $600 for all other cases, according to a Job Accommodation Network report.

While initiatives like “Spread the Word to End the Word” and organizations like Best Buddies work hard to create a more inclusive world for those with disabilities, their efforts will fall short without support from the public.

So we, students of Wake Forest University, should try to live in the spirit of Pro Humanitate and pledge our support for these organizations by abolishing the “r-word.”