Skip to main content

Skip to menu

Change Text Size: Increase Text Decrease Text

The "R-Word" and People First Language

"The R-word is the word 'retard(ed)'. Why does it hurt? The R-word hurts because it is exclusive. It's offensive. It's derogatory." -

The term “mental retardation” was first used as a medical term, but later the words “retard” and “retarded” were used to degrade and marginalize people with intellectual disabilities. Today the words continue to be used to describe people and things that are stupid or ridiculous. Even when these words aren’t used to refer to people with intellectual disabilities, they are still offensive because of where they came from. The term "intellectual disability" is now replacing the term "mental retardation."

In addition to ending the use of the "R-word," being respectful with our words also includes using People First Language. People First Language refers to describing individuals with disabilities as people first, while describing their disability as a secondary characteristic. While words used to describe people with disabilities may seem subtle or insignificant to someone without a disability, certain descriptions can create inaccurate images of people with disabilities. For instance, labeling someone “disabled” or “handicapped” can create an image of a person that may or may not be accurate. It also emphasizes a characteristic of a person instead of who that person is. Saying someone is a “person with a disability” places less emphasis on the disability simply by not putting the word first.

Eliminating the “R-word” from public policy and statutes is one of the goals of the Oklahoma
Self-Advocacy Network (OKSAN). Click here to learn more about OKSAN.

OKSAN logo

R-Word and People First Language Materials

The R-Word Hurts Flyer
From the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council

People First Language Sheet
From the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities

End the R-Word Bumper Stickers, Signs, Shirts, Buttons and More
Available by visiting




Page Last Updated: August 14, 2013