Encarta World English Dictionary defines mental retardation as: "an offensive term for difficulty in learning or functioning independently." Approximately 100 years ago, the medical community adopted this term to describe someone with an IQ (intelligence quotient) below 70. By the end of the 20th century, the term "retarded" was popularized in common slang to refer to any random thing, person or action which was not normal, of lesser quality, or perceived to be "stupid." As a result, the clinical term fell out of favor because it was tossed around so casually, without consideration for how it might injure the feelings of those affected by cognitive impairment. Today, those aware of the sensitive nature of this issue prefer to use "cognitive impairment" or "intellectually disabled" to explain the limitations in learning or thinking processes.
Unfortunately, there is still a portion of the population who still use the "R-word" in casual conversation, often times offending those who love someone with a cognitive disability or the individual themselves. In March 2009, the Special Olympics began a campaign called, "Spread the Word to End the Word" in which people pledge the following: "I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities."
To date, over 224,000 pledges have been made online. Won't you visit the website here and pledge to do the same? When you're done, check out this PSA which drives the point home...(warning: there are slurs used in this PSA for demonstrative purposes only - children should view only with a responsible adult)