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Official appalled at our word choice in Warren house fire story; she should be

By Todd Franko (Contact)


Published April 29, 2009

Cindy Slavens has a point in a complaint about today’s A1 story on the Warren fire. First, read her point:
 
As an advocate for the special needs population in our communities, I was appalled at the terminology found within your article on page one regarding the house fire in which three “mentally retarded” women where living. The proper terminology should have been “mentally challenged”. There currently is legislation in Ohio and DC which will eliminate “retard” from mentally. Perhaps your authors should become more sensitive to words they chose when describing a population of individuals. Perhaps sensitivity training would be in order for all members of your staff to begin eliminating such negative descriptions.
 
Thank you for your time and attention in this matter.

Have a great day!
 
Cindy L. Slavens
SPEC EDU KONNECTIONS, LLC
THE FAMILY AND COMMUNITY RESOURCE CENTER
FOUNDER/DIRECTOR
1413 ANDREW AVE.
SALEM, OHIO 44460
PHONE: (330) 332-2860
FAX: (330) 332-3040


It’s a phrase we should not have used and we will examine the proper phrase to use. Cindy suggests “mentally challenged.”

The Associated Press, which is the bible of proper terminology in the media industry, suggests "mental disability." Here is a recent entry from the AP:

QUESTION: In 2006, a "retarded" entry was added to AP. Presumably in reaction to the court cases and death penalty issues at the time. Now it's being reversed. How come? I thought "retarded" was a better word than the euphemism in the update. 
AP ANSWER: For describing a wide range of learning and intellectual impairments, retardation is imprecise and out of step with accepted terminology. Mental disability is more accurate and fair, and thus AP's preference as a general term.

The local head of MRDD suggests “developmental disabilities”

So does Plain Dealer writer and Valley fan Connie Schultz in this piece on the topic.

Her piece was prompted by state effort to officially remove the word “retardation” from use within state and county agencies.

It’s a proper and long overdue move.

As society evolves, so do terms and labels for people, groups, jobs, etc. That evolution often includes the realization that some terms are not only out of date or irrelevant, but they are offensive.

Use of the word “retarded” is among a handful of terms deemed offensive and evoke significant emotion from folks most aware of the changes.

Therein is the challenge. What term is acceptable?

While it’s certainly clear what word is not acceptable, an industry like ours aims for rules and standards for what to use. Experts in the field are still adjusting. It is our job to learn new acceptances, remain flexible as terms ease into usage and be part of the process that creates a new standard.

In a quick search of our archives, we have used a variety of phrases, including “mentally challenged.”

It is my fault that we do not have a standard of what not to use.

Thanks for the heads up, Cindy. We are better due to your actions today.


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