It's used a slang, as an insult. People know that it's offensive, but they still use it. They seem to think "oh, it's slang, it's just a word, it doesn't matter." But you see, it does matter. Just because there isn't a person with intellectual disabilities there, or apparent, doesn't mean it doesn't matter. Because connotations matter. The thought behind the word, it matters.
Let me show you how.
The noun "retard" comes from "mental retardation". Despite some popular belief, it is actually still used as a diagnosis for people with a low IQ score and two or more adaptive behaviours. According to the ICD-10 and the DSM-IV-TR, there are even varying degrees of it. It is considered to be an intellectual disability, and in fact, most advocates prefer the term intellectual disability rather than "mental retardation".
Why? Because of how the term "retard" is used. It is used not just towards people with intellectual disabilities, it is also used against any disabled person. It gets flung at children in the schoolyard. It gets tossed around as an insult by adults. It has been used to mock, ridicule and insult, not only non-disabled individuals, but disabled people specifically by the simple act of using a diagnosis as slang.
When you use the term "retard", you are specifically taking defining aspects of people, in this case disability, and mocking them. It's kind of like taking a person's skin colour or sexual orientation and using that as an insult. We don't use the words "nigger" or "faggot" anymore? We know better, or at least, we should know better, because there is a history of discrimination against the groups that it refers. In our supposedly more progressive society, it is no longer acceptable to use those words.
The same is with "retard", but it seems like the same regard is not applied to disabled people. It's discrimination. It says that you can target disabled people, mock and insult them, and get away with it because you can.
When you can hurt them in your head and with your words, what's to stop you from hurting them psychically? Because believe me, you're already hurting people mentally and emotionally with your words, and it doesn't take much for those types of attitudes to shift from being merely words to physical violence.
It already happens.
Go on, look up "disabled victim", "disabled crime", "disabled violence", or "disabled murder". It is said that disabled people have at least two to five, possibly up to ten times, the risk of violence than non-disabled (Sobsey 35).
Disabled people have been beaten, robbed, sexually and physically assaulted, and murdered because of how people think of them. Because people think it's okay to use us as an insult, to mock us and degrade us, then it's okay to take things one step further and target us specifically for crimes, not just the individual, but the entire group.
Do you know what it's called when an offence is motivated by a person's membership with a group?
The question is, do you really mean it? Do you really want to potentially endanger people with the carelessness of your words?
Understand that ignorance as an excuse only goes so far, and intent does not mean that you are exempt from the consequences. Once you know about the potential results, you got to ask yourself how you would feel if someone mocked you for being right- or left-handed. Or being beaten because of your ethnic background? Or murdered for speaking another language? And then the people did that to you just walks away without facing any consequences, legal or otherwise?
Don't like it?
Yeah, neither do we.
Sobsey, Dick. Violence and Abuse in the Lives of People with Disabilities: the End of Silent Acceptance?. Baltimore: P.H. Brooks Pub. Co., 1994. Print.