Having a conversation about the R-word can be difficult and often uncomfortable. Use the dialogues and tips below to help you successfully articulate why the R-word is hurtful and harmful in everyday speech.

Dialogue Scenario 1: When a friend/family member uses the R-word

Person 1:       I am such a retard; I forgot to get milk at the grocery store.   

Person 2:       Hey, I would appreciate it if you didn’t use the word retard around me anymore.

Person 1:       Oh don’t worry about it; it’s not a big deal.

Person 2:       It actually is a big deal, when you use retard as a synonym for stupid or idiot, you are saying that all people with intellectual disabilities are stupid, and that’s definitely not true.

Person 1:       But I’m not making fun of people who are mentally retarded, it’s just a figure of speech. It’s how I talk.

Person 2:       The thing is, when you use the R-word as slang, you really are hurting people with intellectual disabilities because of the negative connotation of your comment. The R-word has been associated with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities since its inception, so when you use the word in a negative context, you’re putting down people with intellectual disabilities, regardless of if you mean to or not.  

Person 1:       I appreciate what you’re saying, but it’s imbedded into my vocabulary. I couldn’t stop saying it if I tried.   

Person 2:       I’m not trying to tell you what you can or cannot say, but what I want you to recognize is that people with intellectual disabilities deserve respect, and using another word instead of the R-word is one step towards making them feel respected and valued in society.

Person 1:       Ok, I can understand it might be hurtful to use the word when a person with an intellectual disability is around, but why does it matter now, when I’m just hanging out and joking with my friends?

Person 2:       Using the R-word doesn’t just hurt people with intellectual disabilities, but it also hurt their friends and families. [Discuss personal story about why this is important to you]. Having seen the hurt that the R-word can cause, I know it’s important for me to take a stand and try to change the conversation. I hope you can understand why it hurts and upsets me when the R-word is used and why I would appreciate if you chose another word to use.

Person 1:       I’m sorry; I didn’t realize how much the R-word upset you. I will try to use another word instead.

Person 2:       Thank you for understanding.

Tips for a successful conversation:

  • Stay calm and collected, it will not help the other person see your point if you are angry and emotional.
  • Try to understand the reason he/she disagrees with you. Listen, be respectful and then provide a counterargument that highlights the harmful and hurtful effects of using the R-word.
  • Share a personal story about why the R-word is hurtful to you. Personal stories will help people more easily relate to what you are saying because it illustrates your personal commitment to the campaign.
  • If you encounter a question you are unable to answer, direct the individual to the Spread the Word to End the Word website ( to learn more about the campaign, Special Olympics and Best Buddies.

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  • My brother and I both have forms of Autism and we are constantly informing people that the r-word is not only misused it's also extremely demeaning to any person with spe...


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    Arlington, Texas
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  • 10+ years ago I volunteered for organizations that work with wonderful and intelligent special needs children and teens. Although I'm involved less now, I'm frequently d...


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    Township of Washington, New Jersey
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    Crystal Lake, Illinois
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