The R word

HOW often do you use the R word?

He’s a retard. She’s a retarded.

The word is slung around school yards, workplaces and social media, but how many people sit back and think about what the word really means, and how it is interpreted by people with disabilities?

Recently, community support group Avivo set up an online campaign to deter people from using the R word.


Whenever someone on Twitter and Facebook used the word, they’d receive a “friendly” message from the group and a link to a video of Avivo clients and families describing how sad and angry they felt when the R word was used.

Avivo CEO Rosie Lawn said the campaign kick-started a debate about the word and made people stop and think before using it.

“For many of the people with disabilities we work with, and their families, often the impact of hearing people using the R word unintentionally sometimes and in popular media becomes ‘you’re not as worthy’.

“Quite a lot of people don’t realise … They haven’t thought about the historical connotation of the word.

“It does have an impact on people.”

Avivo’s campaign revealed that “retard” or “retarded” were used on Twitter between 120,000–160,000 times per week.

That’s 12–16 times per minute.

Ms Lawn says while they weren’t able to reply to every single person using the word online, over 28,000 people viewed the Avivo videos and bar a few internet trolls, the overwhelming response was positive.

She notes the success of the campaign relied on not telling people to stop using the word, but simply showing them the impact it can have, and encouraging self-reflection.

“It isn’t necessarily that they’re meaning to be derogatory, but by using the word, it has an impact on people who have a disability, especially people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities.

“It hurts.”


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