Mentally disabled 'self-advocates' oppose use of word 'retarded'
Here's the beginning of that article by Michael Alison Chandler of the Washington Post:
A national movement to purge the word "retarded" from lawbooks and medical terminology is nearing success, gaining support this week from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who apologized to advocates for the disabled for using the term during a private meeting last summer.In response, I wrote the following:
The campaign is led in part by the mentally disabled themselves, who are increasingly politically organized and eager to escape the stigma associated with the term.
"It's a time of change," said Jill Eglé, co-executive director of the Arc of Northern Virginia, a support group for the disabled, who spearheaded a campaign to change the state code in Virginia.
The words "retarded" and "retard" feel threatening, she said. Eglé identifies herself this way: "I am a powerful leader with an intellectual disability."
In Maryland, lawmakers voted last year to replace the term "mental retardation" throughout much of the legal code, and in the District and 48 states, including Virginia, elected officials have acted to remove the words from the names of human services agencies. Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would replace the words in all federal education, health and labor laws.
The 2010 professional manual that psychologists use for diagnosis makes the change in the medical label official: "Mental retardation" is out. "Intellectual disability" is in.
AYT: L'Arche, at its best, embodies a politics which makes these conversations sound trite and peripheral . While I'm no more happy with people using 'gay' to mean bad than with people using 'retarded' to mean stupid, the word itself is not the problem and dismissing it from lawbooks and medical terminology is not the answer. Rehabilitating the term may be, in the long-term, more helpful than banning it. Also, and more importantly, the kind of community that L'Arche attempts to foster is at the heart of organically making certain kinds of linguistic formulation unintelligible and allowing people to see that perhaps it is their love and compassion for those around them that is retarded. This issue seems perhaps marginally beneficial, but not of great consequence.
When invited to check out the following link (See: John Franklin Stephens' piece on the use of 'retard') about why words matter, I had the chance to expound a bit further:
AYT: ...thanks for the links. I completely agree that words matter. That's never a question. Mine has always been: Can we treat language, or words, with the same generosity or hospitality with which we would treat those in our lives with overt disabilities? And is there a connection between our in/ability to hold and use correctly a word like 'retarded' which has so often been seen as ugly and our in/abilities to hold those who have had that word applied to them? I'll admit I have less of a desire to rehabilitate 'retard' than I do 'retarded,' which is in a sense just me following the logic of "people first" language, which I take to be a flawed improvement of how we so often speak, an opening up of our overly-condensed use of labels.
So here is a thought experiment. What if what is at the heart of L'Arche, what makes L'Arche prophetic, is a different temporality, a necessarily slowed existence which allows us to meet one another and see beyond labels (labels which only become necessary in a world that moves too quickly for love)? Maybe to love anyone we need to move and interact more slowly. Maybe this is why L'Arche has the potential to transform. Perhaps we must become a retard, one who has been slowed, to have our love quickened. Perhaps 'retard' could become a high compliment and something akin to 'human' in our usage. Maybe that is the Gospel.
I, of course, realize that my pursuit of other linguistic possibilities may even offend those who have been offended by such unimaginative and ugly speech. Rahm Emanuel's use of words was ugly. It is likely, that he may need to be 'retarded,' or slowed, in order to become a person who can speak more lovingly. I'm just not sure that taking away specific words helps him or any of us. I am open to the possibility of that need, but if needed, we should recognize that it is only needed for a time.
Lastly, I'm grateful for L'Arche, for being the kind of place where, at its best, things move slowly enough to have a conversation about how to speak lovingly.