First of all, it isn't medically correct. Forget politically correct for just a moment... People are no longer classified as having mental retardation. They have intellectual disabilities. So calling someone *cringe* retarded is outdated and makes you look ignorant. Congratulations.
Secondly, you never know who's listening. You may think calling something retarded or calling a person a "tard" is okay because, well hell, everyone else is doing it, right? You don't actually mean to make fun of people with disabilities, you just think your friends are being idiots. Well, what if the person at the table behind you has an ID? How do you think it makes them feel to hear the term "retarded" thrown around in a derogatory sense? What if the person in front of you in line has a child with an ID?
The one that hurts me the most is the joke about "Doing (fill in the blanks) is like being in the Special Olympics; even if you win, you're still a retard." Now, the Special Olympics are a WONDERFUL thing. They bring a sense of pride and belonging to so many kids and families. There's a sense of accomplishment, pride in doing your best and maybe even winning at something for the first time in your life. It's about support and encouragement. Why on earth would you want to turn that into something ugly by making mean-spirited JOKES about it??
I have at least one person who will never talk to me again because she posted that joke about sports fans on her Facebook profile, and I called her out on it. I pointed out that, as a mother, she should understand that it's hurtful to other parents as well as to children who have an ID, and she doesn't know everything about who's reading her posts. She didn't know that I have a child with developmental delays that will likely be diagnosed with an ID when she turns 6 (the magical age in which Nevada no longer accepts "developmental delay" as an eligibility-meeting diagnosis for special education services). Similarly, she wouldn't necessarily know if one of her friends had a brother, a sister, a cousin, an aunt, an uncle, a parent, or a grandparent with an ID. Posting that horrific joke in a public forum was just plain wrong, and I wasn't going to let it slide. I was polite in pointing out that it's harmful to make jokes and to use the r-word in a derogatory sense like that, but she was so upset that someone would point out that she did something wrong, she unfriended me and hasn't talked to me since. Frankly, my life is better off without the kinds of people who will make those jokes and then not listen to you when you point out how damaging they can be. Learn from your mistakes, kids. Don't just insist you're always right and run away.
I typically try not to call anyone out in public. I pull them aside or send them a private message indicating that what they're saying is deeply offensive, and that we could do the world a lot of good if we eradicated that word from the colloquial lexicon, one person at a time. Most people are apologetic and understand with just a gentle nudging.
The other night, I was in a 25-person group playing an online video game. Two people had already thrown out the r-word in the group chat, so I spoke up and requested that they not use that word anymore. My polite plea prompted them to use the word even more often, and three others joined in, just to taunt me. I felt sick to my stomach and nearly cried. I had to remind myself that people like that fall into my "horrible people" category, and I can't let them have power in my life. I can't let them get to me, and I can't afford to give them my tears. Those people--the ones who go out of their way to offend and to be cruel--need to be ignored. You can't save everyone, I guess...
But the battle rages on. I will continue to do my all to eradicate that word from our society, to make people more aware and more sensitive, and to protect the feelings of individuals with ID and their families. It's just too important to let go.