Label Jars Not People…a Caregiver’s Perspective.

Gratitude exists in many forms here at the Shining Beautiful community. Health, safety, good friends and community, and wonderful women who cross our path for just a brief period at a fundamental moment in their lives.

Mikelle and I know that no one woman will stay with us forever. The longest lasted ten years, the second-longest, Taylor, who stayed with us for eight years. Even though these ladies have left our home, they and a few others will take us with them for the rest of their lives, for their time with us changed their world view.

Elizabeth (Liz) Lichti wrote the essay that follows as part of a college class she is taking for her nurses’ training. I think when you read it, you will see what I mean.


Label Jars Not People!

By Elizabeth Lichti


The old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is widely used to make ourselves toughen up because a word cannot physically hurt us, so why should we let them affect us. But this isn’t true, is it? For example, faggot, retard, and racial slurs are all offensive, hateful and negative names that can have a huge long-lasting effect on someone’s emotional and mental state. It can send an individual into a depressive state that can even result in suicide. Some aggressive words are more powerful than others-now that doesn’t make it is excusable to use any of them-but in order to get society to consider completely cutting them out of their daily vocabulary, we must fight one word at a time.

The first record of retardation relation to being mentally slow was in 1895. The term mentally retarded was used to replace terms like idiot, moron, and imbecile. It is important to know that during this time, retarded was not a derogatory term. Fast forward to 1961, it was introduced as a neutral term by the American Association on Mental Retardation. Retardation was once considered a medical term; in present time it is used as an insult, “Young people especially like it: as a weapon of derision, it does the job” (Lawrence Downes). However, it is the farthest thing from a joke or being funny. When one uses the word retarded, they may not realize the damage they are contributing to. Using retard as an insult is telling someone, mainly the disability community, that they are limited in life. That society has low expectations for them and the odds are against them to amount to anything in their lifetime.

A large portion of society seems to agree that this exclusive term needs to simply disappear. There is a campaign in the US called “Spread the word to end the word” and their goal is to get people to pledge to stop saying using the word. This campaign strongly believes that the use of retardation is offensive, derogatory, and exclusive. Spread the word to end the word currently has millions of pledges. These pledges prove to those in the intellectual community that they are equal to everyone else, they are cared for and belong wherever they are. The campaign also emphasizes getting comfortable using “first-person” terms. Instead of saying “that boy with autism” it should be phrased as “that boy who has autism”. A disability does not define a person. As a society, we need to look past that and see them for who they really are.

Now to play devil’s advocate, there are many folks who defend the use of the R-word claim that such efforts mean “you can’t say anything anymore” (Terry Mauro), but that’s just lazy talk. There are in fact many less-offensive words that work as substitutions such as dull, dumb, simpleminded, and shortsighted. We need to make our speech more varied and less hurtful.

It takes more than a campaign to make a difference, in 2010 the Obama Administration signed a law known as Rosa’s law. It removes the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal health, education and labor policy and replaces them with people first language “individual with an intellectual disability” and “intellectual disability.” The bill, championed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wy.), garnered unanimous support in passing both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Rosa’s Law was commemorated in a White House ceremony on October 8 with an 11-member delegation of Special Olympics athletes, leaders and self-advocates present to celebrate the milestone.

How can one help eliminate the R-word? It simply starts at home. Children listen and absorb what they hear their parents say, then they will go on to repeat it. As you teach your children what is proper to say, coach them not to use the R-word, just as you would stop them from using a racial or ethnic slur (Terry Mauro).  Its critical to teach kids, and for us adults to remember, that we cannot take back the words that we say out loud. Like squeezing toothpaste out of the tube, once it is out you can’t put it back in.


Work Cited

Mauro, Terri. “Why the R-Word Needs to Be Removed From Our Vocabulary.” Verywell Family, 3 May 2020,

“Spread the Word to End the Word.” National Inclusion Project, 7 Mar. 2018,

“Why You Shouldn’t Use the R-Word.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 27 June 2011,

Downes, Lawrence. “A Word Gone Wrong.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Mar. 2013,