Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Use of 'retarded' in The NY Times

Hi -- I was grateful to have a response from Danny Hakim, the reporter who wrote Lawmaker To File Suit Charging Abuse of His Disabled Son in The New York Times yesterday. I blogged about it here.

Hakim was a collaborator in a series of articles called Abused and Used last year, which revealed widespread violence against and neglect of people with developmental disabilities in New York State group homes.

When the series was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in April, the Pulitzer board said it “revealed rapes, beatings and more than 1,200 unexplained deaths over the past decade of developmentally disabled people in New York State group homes, leading to removal of two top officials, movement to fire 130 employees and passage of remedial laws.”

I applaud Hakim for his work to expose the effects of disability hate. And I hope he'll think further on whether the word "retarded" as a descriptor for one of the most marginalized groups in society is fitting. Louise


Thanks for the note. Obviously I meant no disrespect. Mental retardation is a diagnosed condition – you can look it up in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual. We also explain it further here: http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/mental-retardation/overview.html We’ve actually used the term with some frequency, in headlines and elsewhere. And Ricky’s parents told me that was part of his diagnosis. It’s a bit of a quandary I guess. If it’s part of the diagnosis, I don’t like to leave it out, but I understand the feelings you and others have about the word. I think a copy editor decided to change it late that night, I assume because of the kind of concerns you raise. This term is still used in the medical profession, though, so it’s not a simple thing to always be ignoring it. Anyway, that’s my two cents.


Danny Hakim
Albany Bureau Chief
The New York Times


Mr. Hakim's email is flippant, at the least. I find it highly ironic that he would actually point you to the APA. I am tempted to be flippant in return, but I guess I'll just sigh and move on.

Just curious what the medical staff at Bloorview have to say about this word still being relevant in medical literature... And I may be way out on left field here, but could it also be somewhat culturally related - where we strive to embrace differences in Canada (not always a smooth path granted) versus the melting pot mentality of the US?

Hi Elizabeth -- Yes -- as if I haven't read descriptions of MR before! And what's most important about the APA is the changes its proposing!

Maxine -- at Holland Bloorview the terms intellectual disability and developmental disability are used. I'm sure there are cultural differences at play in the US vs Canada. However, Special Olympics in the US has been the one spearheading the Spread the Word to End The Word campaign. Will keep you posted on any developments!