Sample Letter about Hurtful Language

Dear Friends and Family:

We have shared with you that our unborn baby GIRL or BOY NAME has Down syndrome, and although we are still anxious, we love our baby GIRL or BOY, and hope you all will welcome HIM or HER.

We have been through some emotional ups and downs, and have found that we are much more sensitive to the words those around us are saying. There are comments about “the short bus” or special ed that are bantered about teasingly that are starting to sting, and the slang use of the “R-word” (retarded) that is causing us some pain. As we look back, we realize (with some embarrassment and regret) that these are things we have said in the past. If we had only known the impact, we definitely would have eliminated these things from our vocabulary.

As we move forward in our plan to raise a child with an intellectual disability, one of the things that worries us is the way society looks at people with cognitive challenges. Although the phrase “mentally retarded” is something used less and less frequently by doctors, it is still in use in some clinical and legal contexts. It is also one of the phrases that comes to peoples’ minds when they hear the diagnosis of Down syndrome. Finally, this is still a word that is directed at people with cognitive challenges as an insult. Therefore, even though people using the R-word in slang “don’t mean it that way,” we do hear it that way and believe that our SON or DAUGHTER will hear it that way as well.

If your children hear this word in your home, they will use it as well, and will of course use it around our family. We are nervous about this possibility.

For all of these reasons, we are asking you to join us in our journey towards kinder vocabulary by eliminating the use of the R-word in your home. We know it’s hard to break old habits, but it would mean so much to us. We are including a link to the Special Olympics website which has more information, and you can even take a pledge to show your support.

Thank you all so much.

Love to all,

Special Olympics

Take the Pledge

Spread the Word to End the Word