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Wooden block with the letter R on it

Let’s end the R-word

March 1, 2016

When people use the R-word (or retard), it is often to insult people with a disability, or to call someone or something stupid – “You’re being so retarded”.

What’s wrong with the R-word? Simply it’s hurtful and derogatory – it suggests people with a disability are stupid or flawed. Even when it is not meant to be offensive, it reinforces negative stereotypes.

To help raise awareness and kick the R-word for good, we are sharing seven short stories from people with a disability.

James

Not using the R-word comes back to respect for people with a disability. There is an ignorance about using the word, and people need to be informed around why it is wrong so it can stop. I’m not sure if it is because people don’t care or they are not informed, but I often think it’s just a general lack of respect.

I’ve been made fun of before and called the R-word as I kind of slur my words a bit and can have some trouble with pronunciation. It was rude and it was hurtful.

Some people say the R-word because they are saying they don’t like something, or that something is stupid, they say ‘that’s so retarded’, just as they will also say ‘that’s so gay’. Both are wrong. It sounds quite juvenile and childish really, and makes them sound ignorant. There are far more articulate and mature ways to articulate your displeasure of something.

Even if you don’t think it’s offensive, you should always think about how others would feel. Even more than that, you should always remember not to speak to someone with a disability like they are a kid or idiot, and talk to the person themselves, not their support worker or family.

Susy

My experiences at school were horrible. I would be at the bus stop and these older kids would call me awful names like the R-word, baby, and loser. They thought I was stupid, and said that I shouldn’t be going to school, but I was clever and I loved to do my homework.

People still stare at me for no reason and say things about me. It feels odd because the eyes are always on me and lot of people think that people like me look ugly but we don’t. Sometimes on the bus people stare at me and think ‘wow, why is she getting on?’, when they talk about me it’s awful, it’s a bad feeling.

Right now I love my life and everyone in it, but I don’t like when people hurt my feelings. When people say the R-word, it makes me feel sad and emotional, and it really truly hurts my heart.

Please stop using bad language, stop talking about us, and stop staring at us. Instead make sure you respect us because we are just like you.

Lachlan

I was called the R-word quite a lot back in my school days. This guy decided he didn’t like my name or what I looked like, and from that point onwards he bullied me for no reason. I’m not the smartest person in the world, I’ve never been very good at English and maths, and I was kind of a loner.

I felt a little bit sad about the bullying, but I was ok as by that point I’d already gone through a lot and had learnt how to ignore people.

Everyone is good at something, or they will be, but they just have to work hard and find what suits them. I was never good at English and maths until just a little while ago, but now I’m getting pretty good at it, and even back at school I was really good at drawing and painting and was top of my class in art.

I think the use of the R-word needs to stop as people overlook us. I’ve learnt that everyone is clever in their own way and I believe that nobody is perfect in this world.

Leigh

I’ve been through bullying and being called the R-word so I know how it feels. When I was about 7 years old I was at a mainstream school and was bullied and called the R-word so many times. It took my brother to stand up for me and say ‘if you deal with my brother you can deal with me too’ to make it stop.

Sometimes adults use the R-word too and I’ve been through that as well. I was walking home one day, walking along minding my own business, and a car drove past and the guy yelled both the R-word and the f-word. It was really really hurtful.

For me people using the R-word is half improving and half not – they still use it in schools, and that’s why I want to go to schools and educate the kids on respecting people with a disability.

I think the R-word suggests that people with a disability are being compared to ‘normal’ people. I might have a disability but we do have feelings. The R-word should be stopped and never used at all, just treat us as you would your brother and sister.

Mel

When I started school in year 7, I was really struggling because my mum had just passed away. I had people calling me the R-word because I had repeated a grade and was older than the others.

I was doing both mainstream and supported classes, but I had to pull out of one of my mainstream classes because of people using the R-word. It was really difficult to cope with it, it was devastating.

Once I left school I was hoping to enjoy my independence living by myself, but on my 18th birthday I had opened my blind because I like getting some light in, and people threw rocks at my window. I didn’t feel safe anymore, and I wouldn’t sleep near the windows. Sometimes it’s just really hard.

I want to tell people to be careful about what they are saying or doing, and who you are saying it to. You don’t want to say the R-word in a negative way because then people will feel offended. They might not even want to go to school or work, and just want to be alone, but that’s not what we want. We want people to go to school, get their education, and go to work.

Adrian

When you see people who have severe disabilities, people will laugh at them, or call them the R-word, or make fun of them. People who are immature in society will joke about them and put them down because they don’t understand.

I have a perfect example of someone saying something offensive to me. I was down the street one day, and there was a couple there, and the lady said to me ‘what’s wrong with your eyes’ (I wasn’t wearing my sunglasses). When I responded that I had a disability, she got a massive shock and felt really bad, but you don’t say things like that.

I also notice that kids will sometimes stare because they don’t understand. Even when I was younger, my nephews used to make fun of my eyes, but now that they’re older, they get it.

People are more understanding about disability than they used to be, I think things are improving but there is a long way to go. It’s offensive to use the R-word because it’s making fun of someone, and putting someone down, and it definitely has to stop.

Mark

People who have dyslexia can live a normal life, but they see things totally differently from people who can read because it mucks them up.

For me, being offensive about ‘dyslexia’ is the one thing you should not do because it can put you down quite easy. Because when you have it, they say there are strict things that you can and can’t do, like read and write. But Albert Einstein couldn’t read and he was a top mathematician. He was the smartest person they’ve ever known!

Dyslexia can cause so much trouble for me, and if I heard someone say anything negative about dyslexia, I would just walk away from it.

What I want people to know is, you’ve got to respect other people the way they are, because nobody’s perfect. Everyone is different.

We have put together this handy language guide to make sure we’re all using respectful terminology.

If you need to talk to someone about bullying or a crisis in your life, please consider calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, beyondblue on 1300 22 4636, or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.