The story is particularly offensive because of the men involved with this story. Governor Culver's office used the term "retarded" in one news release to describe them. The Des Moines Register routinely describes them that way, as well. I was surprised. I thought "retarded" was an outdated term, so I asked two people in the know in the metro. Here are their responses:
Thank you for your inquiry. Our language in the field has transitioned through the years as our understanding of disabilities and our ability to support people to learn has grown. The term retarded comes from the diagnosis of Mental Retardation which is actually a medical diagnosis indicating that the cognitive or mental ability of the person is slow or retarded. Of course it is now considered a derogatory remark (despite the fact that Mental Retardation is still a diagnosis).
The most common ‘politically correct’ terminology for a person whose mental capacity has slowed is now an intellectual disability or you will hear that they have a cognitive challenge. I am in the field and have been for 17 years and I still struggle with all the language changes but what I can tell you is that the best way to discuss any disability is to always refer to the person first (we call this person first language).
For instance I am Marcy and I have a cognitive disability. Another example is to say this is Tom and he has a physical disability or has a visual impairment. When you refer to the person first, they are respected and valued and then you can discuss the disability the same way you would a job. For example, this is Rick and he is a store owner.
People live with a variety of disabilities everyday and most of us like to ignore them and just go after life. We do not struggle with mental illness, we are not confined to a wheelchair; we work, we play, we have friends … we live and we contribute to our communities.
Hope this makes sense and thank you for caring enough to ask. Feel free to contact me anytime about disability issues and I will do my best to help or send you in the right direction for answers.
Best regards – Marcy Davis, MBA
Chief Executive Officer
My name is Linda Streit and I am the Executive Director of Link Associates in Des Moines. We provide comprehensive services for 800+ adults and children with mental disabilities and their families. The term retarded is still used as it relates to a person’s diagnosis. Generally speaking an IQ of 70 or below puts a person into the diagnosis of mental retardation. Profound mental retardation is an IQ below 20, Severe is 20-34, moderate is 35-49, Mild is 50-69 and borderline in 70-79.
Everyone we serve has the primary diagnosis of mental retardation. We teach and use person first speech as we should with anyone. We would say “21 people with mental retardation …”
Linda Young-Streit, Executive Director
LINK ASSOCIATES, Des Moines