Spread the Word to End the Word

By Rosh Koch
March 27, 2009

A miniature Woody doll from Disney’s Toy Story dangled from Caleb’s grip. It was common to hear the pull-stringed little cowboy make a loud proclamation during the church sermon. It was also common to see Caleb take off down the middle aisle, between the pews, towards the preacher.

Except for his mother, no one seemed to pay much mind to his antics. Sometimes she would take off after him and walk, her face flustered with embarrassment, with him outside.

Caleb has Down syndrome.

I spent many years during my teens working with children in the church nursery. Caleb was bigger, stronger, and older than the other little children. Because of my strength, and a developing sense of understanding for his special needs, the other nursery volunteers often asked me to work with Caleb.

I didn’t mind. I liked Caleb. We had fun. He called me “buddy.”

As I grew older, I fell away from time spent in the nursery. I fell away from Caleb. I fell away from my compassion for his disability.

I’m guilty of using the mental deficiencies as a joke and as an insult.

I have used the word time and time again to refer to people, places, things, ideas, and instances that I disagree with or do not understand. I have not only embraced a derogatory label, I’ve propagated the use of the word by not openly objecting to its use.

I never gave much thought to the term – retard.

By definition, “retard” means to hinder or to delay, or the opposite of progress. Examining the definition, I now fail to see the validity of using such a term to identify those who live with mental disabilities.


The Special Olympics have begun an effort to end he use of “the word.” March 31 will signify the launch of a campaign to encourage people think about what they are saying before saying it. Derogatory name-calling is a fad that we, as human beings, ought to put behind us.

As a college student I hear several words that have been taken from our lexicon used to negatively label other people. If we continue to denigrate ourselves by allowing this derogatory hate speech to continue, we are doomed to be the opposite of progress.

If that is the case, WE will be the retarded ones.


More information on the Special Olympics Campaign: http://www.r-word.com