Why Using the “R Word” Actually Does Matter

The “R Word.”

You know the one.


Or retarded.



A few days ago, an unsettling situation was brought to my attention. In 2012, Ann Coulter wrote a Tweet about the President during the State of the Union Address, in which she referred to him as a “retard.” Quite a bit of news coverage followed, including a beautifully written letter from John Franklin Stephens, a 30-year-old man who is a Special Olympics athlete and global messenger, and who also happens to have Down syndrome. In her response, Ann Coulter refused to acknowledge that her words had anything to do with those with a disability. Instead, she insisted that it merely means “loser.”

But it does not, Ms. Coulter. It doesn’t mean that at all.


I’ve always thought the R word was an ugly word, but on May 24, 2012, the day we met our beautiful Samuel, the word became so much more. When I hear the word in any context now, it immediately takes me out of the moment. My mind races to my little boy and I’m flooded with fear. I see a picture of my Samuel, with his incessant smile, being called the word behind his back by a group of kids in grade school because they don’t understand. I see him playing at the park where a group of moms whisper while watching him chase his sister. I feel the fear of not knowing exactly what our future holds and the challenges that my son will face because of his diagnosis.

On a regular day, these thoughts very rarely come to mind. I’ve handed them over to Jesus and know he is in control of our future. But in the moment that follows the utterance of the ugly R word, I am scared that I will not be able to protect him from those who just don’t understand.


When I hear friends continue to use the word, I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt since I know they’re usually talking about a frustrating situation or a misbehaving crock pot, not a person. But it feels the same to me. Maybe I would be acting as a stronger advocate for my son and for the others in this beautiful community if I stepped up and {gently} said something. I know that’s what I should do, and I think I’ll eventually learn how to do that. But honestly, right now with my sweet boy not even two years old, the term stings so sharply that I simply don’t have the words to respond.


So please, help spread the understanding that the R word is not what Ms Coulter insists. It does not mean “loser” or “idiot or “moron” as she stated in her response. It represents years and years of hurt to those who could not stand up for themselves. I am so very thankful to live in a time and place that is far more understanding and knowledgeable and welcoming to the incredible people with disabilities all around us. My Samuel has countless opportunities for his future. He will learn and love and play and grow just like every other child, though it may look just a little different at times. Society continues to learn, but we can help spread the message that the R word is no longer acceptable.


Gently mention it to your friends when the word pops up in conversation. Teach your children that it’s not an acceptable term. Instead, let’s learn to look beyond the label to recognize the person beneath. Because if I’ve learned anything in the last year and a half, it’s that there are so many incredible people around every corner.


Revision: I wrote this as an expression of where I am at this point in my journey. It is just that – my own journey. I am a mama doing the best I can with what I have been given at this moment. I’m sorry if you do not agree with what I have written here, but my intention cannot be completely expressed without personally knowing me. I would never write something to cause harm or anger. After disabling the comments section for a short time due to the harsh language of some responses, I am stepping out and allowing them again. Thank you so much for your support on this topic.

March 3, 2015: One year after writing this post, I can tell you that I now am much bolder about asking people not to use the R word. I simply cannot allow such a word to continue to be used after meeting countless incredible people in the last year with varying abilities.  Please join me and so many others in eliminating this word from our vocabulary.

 Take the pledge to support the end of the R-word by clicking here.


22 Responses to Why Using the “R Word” Actually Does Matter

  1. Thank you Angela. You’ve challenged me to the core. I know you and your child and he’s an amazing kid. I hope to know him when he’s older when we can chat about Star Wars or Jesus (not in that order 😉

    I agree with you that when Ann Coulter used it, it was extremely insensitive, but when she didn’t apologize for it or admit what she did was wrong, this was worse.

    I admit, I have used the word in the past, and this is wrong. My mother and girlfriend both challenge me to not use it, and now you have too.

    Like a lot of things, sometimes it takes a really intelligent mother to challenge us to change our ways.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Beautifully written and a much-needed article! Loved the pictures of your son! Gorgeous!

  3. KELLY YETTER says:

    Beautiful message! I too have used the ‘R’ word for things that are frustrating. I won’t use it again…thanks to Sammy!

  4. cheryl mcfarlane says:

    I love your message.May I say your son is beautiful and his smile is infectious.Every human being is a gift from God and deserves respect.My son is to special .He has Bi-polor.Life at times has been a sruggle for him.He loves the lord,he writes christian rap music and is vary gifted.His goal is to bring many people to Jesus through his music.Love and God Bless you.

  5. Thank you for writing this. Your baby boy is beautiful and reminds me so much of my little Logan! God Bless.

  6. Beth Anderson says:

    Wow, I had no idea people even used that word anymore. No, I don’t live in a bubble, but I would have to say something should it come up. I missed this bruhaha entirely, and thank you so much for bringing it to my attention. Ms. Coulter has some learnin’ to do, but sadly, I doubt she will. Now off to FB to share this, because your kid is adorable and your words are powerful!!

  7. karla says:

    Your boy is beautiful. And he has the best mommy.

  8. Sarah Rebollo says:

    I love this! Thank you:)

  9. Kate says:

    This is beautiful. Angela, your son looks like such a delight and fills my heart with joy. I pray he grows up in an age where others will love him for the gorgeous little boy he seems to be with great role models in his life. God bless you and keep you strong. Xx

  10. KIm Nonte says:

    The R word is totally unacceptable. If you mean “loser” then say loser.

  11. Katia says:

    I just wanted to tell you how precious your little guy is! I want to squeeze his cheeks! He is truly a blessing and a reminder of all that is good in the world.

  12. Heather says:

    I so agree with you. I listen to a XM radio show regularly and they use the word all the time. I sent him a request to please not say that word. I explained that I remember holding my brother while he cried after being called that horrific word. He apologized and to date refrains from using it.
    More people need to teach that that w6orx is not ok.

  13. Faith says:

    Your son is a beacon of sunshine and joy! He is not the R word. No one is. I will remember his super smiling face when I’m frustrated and I won’t need to use any foul language anymore.

  14. Jennifer says:

    Your son is stinkin’ CUTE…love the pictures. I promise to never be a whispering mom.

  15. Teri Penrod-Moomaw says:

    The use of that word has always been a heart breaker to me. My little sister was born with Down’s Syndrome in the early 60’s….and sadly we heard that word used. She, like your precious, adorable son is truly a gift from God. After over 50 years of having her as a sister, my family and I have been very blessed. Your son, Samuel, and my sister, Karen, are little angels on earth! True blessings….that’s the word I would use! 🙂 thank you so much for sharing your insights, your heart, and the beautiful pictures of your son!

  16. Lauren says:

    So well written! I have passed this article along, great message to share!

  17. Kayla says:

    I absolutely love this article! I work at a sheltered workshop. The workshop provides equal opportunity employment for mentally handicapped adults. I love my job and enjoy going to work each day. Each of the employees have such a special place in my heart. I have a huge problem with the “R” word and I am thankful that you shared this! It really touched my heart.

  18. kim says:

    I have taught my children never to use the “r” word and that is a rule on my school bus everyone knows it will not be tolerated. My nephew has ceribal palsy and is autistic and does not speak so someone has to be the voice for him.

  19. Angie Vargas says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have made it my life’s mission to educate people on this word. I spent most of my school years being called this from my peers. Eventually I got fed up and put my feelings in writing, which eventually got published in NewsWeek magazine called Its ok to be different stop making fun of my disability.

    I will continue to educate one person at a time and hope you will too. Your son is very lucky to have a mother who is being proactive instead of reactive.

    Thank again

  20. […] to take a pledge to remove the words retard or retarded from their vocabulary. I wrote about why using the R Word actually does matter last month and was amazed with the outpouring of support and personal stories of why you, the […]

  21. […] it’s honestly so incredibly important to stop using the words retard or retarded. Last year I wrote a post about why I personally think we have to stop using it. The post got over 10,000 hits on Facebook, which shows what a hot topic ending this word really is. […]

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