I'm amazed by the amount of times I hear the words “retard" or “retarded" leave the mouths of the people around me. Each time, I actually cringe, as if it physically hurts my ears to hear. In a sense, it does. My surprised and often pained expression incites some colorful excuses from the verbalizer. “Oh, I didn't mean it like that," and “Well, I'd never actually say that to someone with special needs," are just a few of the justifications people give to their derogatory use of the R-word. It makes my skin crawl to even type it.

The first use of the words "retard/retarded" was in the late 1890s, in relation to describing an individual with intellectual or developmental impairments. At first, the word had scientific implications. When the public began to use it as a derogatory term to refer to others is when it took on its offensive tone. Originally, the words "retard" and "retarded" meant no harm. After a while, it began to be thrown around as an insult. When somebody's friend did something stupid, they were called a "retard." If someone's teacher gave them a heavy workload, the class was "retarded." Purposefully or not, the once scientific term has been turned into a dehumanizing insult.

If you are one of the many who still, unfortunately, use the R-word in your everyday language, it's time you get with the times and educate yourself as to how your words affect others. I have been fortunate enough as a young adult to have had copious experience as a mentor, coworker, and most importantly, as a friend to numerous individuals with varying levels of intellectual disabilities. I'm even lucky enough to be a big cousin to an amazing young man with autism. These individuals have touched my life in ways I never will be able to fully explain to people who do not know them. To the world, their limitations are a disability. To me, and anyone else lucky enough to know them, their limitations give them a unique ability. I have learned more from my friends with intellectual impairments than from anybody else. They taught me how to love freely, without limitation. They taught me the ability of compassion. Without a judgmental bone in their bodies, they taught me the importance of choosing to see the best in people. They taught me the virtue of patience and how to smile through my toughest days. They taught me how to be a friend.

Because of this, I will never understand why the outdated scientific terms "retard" and "retarded" are still used for offensive purposes. Not only is it mean, it makes you sound simpleminded and uneducated. Regardless of whom you say it to or how you mean (or don't mean) it, calling somebody a retard and/or retarded is extremely ignorant and offensive. The implications behind the R-word are derogatory and insulting. By using the r-word in your everyday language, you are hurting individuals with intellectual disabilities whether you intend to or not. You are hurting my friends and making it OK for others to do so as well. What do you usually do when others are mean to your friends? Do you get mad? Sad? Plan revenge? Your use of the words "retard" and "retarded" hurts each individual with intellectual disabilities, not to mention their friends and families. This includes my friends and myself. All we ask is for you to change the way you speak.

It's time to remove the R-word from your vocabulary. The English language has a vast arsenal of words to describe things that are stupid or unpleasant. Use another word to describe how you feel about something. Replace the words "retard" and "retarded" with my personal favorite R-word: respect. Learn to respect others for their differences. Eliminate the R-word from your everyday speech. Foster an accepting and inclusive environment for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Educate yourself. Stop hurting my friends.

Spread The Word To End The Word is a national campaign that educates the world on the harmful effects of the use of the R-word. They have created a pledge for others to encourage the elimination of the words "retard/retarded" from everyday speech. Pledge your support below and join us in celebrating national Spread The Word To End The Word Day of Awareness:

www.r-word.org