Letter to the Editor of The New York Times


I was surprised to see a man who was allegedly abused described as "retarded" on the front page of your newspaper and in the first sentence of the related story (Lawmaker to File Suit Charging Abuse of His Disabled Son, Oct. 1, 2012)

(note to readers -- this was later changed in the online version above to "has a severe mental disability.")

I questioned your public editor on this practice, given that your style guide counsels neutral language and "respect for group preferences" when choosing descriptors.

I was told that "retarded" will continue to be used because mental retardation is the medical diagnosis in the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual. 

I explained that the APA has plans to change this name to intellectual development disorder in 2013 because, as it states: "Mental retardation is no longer used internationally or in U.S. federal legislation."

If we can agree that the word "retarded" has taken on the connotation of a demeaning slur, that people with intellectual disabilities made their word preference clear when supporting the Spread The Word to End The Word Campaign, and that the term mental retardation will be wiped from APA's diagnostic manual, why does The New York Times choose to cling to it?

Sincerely, Louise Kinross