The Power of Language: No More "R" Word

Intellectual disability (ID) is the term for what used to be called "mental retardation" (MR). Self-advocates are people with ID who advocate for themselves and others when it comes to their rights and choices in life, and many self-advocates have communicated that the term "retard" is hurtful and unacceptable. Self-advocates have communicated that the "R" word is bigoted, cruel and insensitive and should be avoided in everyday conversations just like racial, gendered or sexual slurs are avoided by people wishing to show respect for others. The self-advocacy movement, also called "People First", is part of the larger Disability Rights Movement (DRM). For more information about self-advocacy, check out your local People First group, or the national People First organization Self-advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE). The "Resources" section of this website also has more information about self-advocacy and self-determination.

What are Developmental Disabilities (DD)?
Developmental disability (DD) is an umbrella term that covers many different kinds of physical and intellectual/developmental disabilities. According to the Developmental Disabilities (DD) Act, developmental disabilities:
  • begin before the age of 22 and are likely to be life-long.
  • are defined as severe, chronic disabilities.
  • can be intellectual or physical or both.
  • reflect a need for services, supports and assistance that are probably lifelong, individually planned and coordinated.
  • result in substantial functional limitations in 3 or more of the following areas of major life activity:
    1. Self-care.
    2. Receptive and expressive language.
    3. Learning.
    4. Mobility.
    5. Self-direction.
    6. Capacity for independent living.
    7. Economic self-sufficiency; and
    8. reflects the individual's need for a combination and sequence of special, interdisciplinary, or generic services, individualized supports, or other forms of assistance that are of lifelong or extended duration and are individually planned and coordinated.
Some developmental disabilities may be physical and not intellectual, such as cerebral palsy, or childhood vision and hearing loss. Other developmental disabilities may be primarily intellectual, such as Down syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) or Fragile X syndrome. It is sometimes difficult to classify some developmental disabilities as physical or intellectual, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
What are Intellectual Disabilities (ID)?
Intellectual disabilities originate before the age of 18 and are characterized by significant limitations in reasoning, learning, problem solving, and in adaptive behavior (every day social and practical skills). The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) states that:
"Some disabling conditions classified as developmental disabilities-such as autism or cerebral palsy-might include intellectual/developmental disabilities. Other developmental disabilities, such as Down Syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, and fragile X syndrome, could well include intellectual/developmental disabilities. Intellectual/developmental disabilities could also be caused by social factors, such as the level of child stimulation and adult responsiveness, and educational factors, such as the availability of family and educational supports that can promote mental development and greater adaptive skills. Nevertheless...approximately 40 to 50 percent of the causes of intellectual/developmental disabilities currently have no identifiable origin."
Think College describes students with intellectual disabilities as students that:
  • Qualify to receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) until they are 21 years old in most states (26 years old in Michigan).
  • Likely, but not always, take alternative state assessments in high school.
  • In many states exit secondary education with an alternative diploma or certificate of attendance, instead of a typical high school diploma.
  • Do not access postsecondary education through typical paths, but instead require significant planning and collaboration to gain access.
For more information about intellectual and developmental disabilities, visit the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and refer to the book "Think College!: Postsecondary Education Options for Students with Intellectual Disabilities" (2010).

African American male student pointing to himself

I know plenty of people who quit college and don't want to get an education. They want to do it their own way. It might be hard. I was going to quit college myself last year but I didn't. I said to myself, "I know I can do it. The work might be hard but I can do it". And I did it. I do the best I can. I will not give up." -Stephan