Aaron, 16, and his parents in this undated photo. His mom, Sue Robins, has voiced concerns after an email from the Ministry of Child and Family Development included outdated terminology for those with disabilities. (Submitted by Sue Robins to Black Press Media)

B.C. mom’s complaint about ‘R word’ in children’s ministry email sparks review

In 2020, the ‘R’ word shouldn’t be used, Sue Robins says

Sue Robins was checking her email on Tuesday when she noticed a message from the B.C. government with “Transition Information” as the subject line.

Inside, roughly 552 words detailed what Robins would need to soon do so that her son, Aaron, can continue to access services for people with disabilities. But it wasn’t the forms or lengthy checklist that caught her eye. Instead, it was an outdated and derogatory two-word term for people with disabilities, used twice, that sparked feelings of anguish and frustration.

“Clearly no families were engaged to review this letter before it went out,” Robins said on Twitter.

“In 2020, the ‘R’ word isn’t used in front of families or people with intellectual disabilities even in the hospital for medical reasons. Language matters. Do better.”

Black Press Media obtained the email, which was sent by Children and Youth with Special Needs, a department within the Ministry of Children and Family Development. The term “mental retardation” can be read twice in the email.

It’s unclear how many people received the email, but appeared to be targeted at parents and guardians in the Lower Mainland.

“Mental retardation” was once a medical term used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a guide used by the medical industry for diagnosing mental disorders. But the outdated terminology was replaced in 2013 with the term “intellectual disability” after then-U.S. President Barack Obama signed a law which required its predecessor to be stricken from federal records.

The ministry said in a statement to Black Press Media that the email was part of an older correspondence template and is being updated.

“We sincerely apologize for any distress the letter has caused,” the statement reads. “The ministry values inclusivity and we understand the profound effect labelling can have on children, youth and families.”

READ MORE: Online campaign encourages end of R-word

But Robins disagrees, and feels “like they are out of touch with the people they are serving,” she said in a phone interview.

“Anyone remotely in touch with our community and the community of disabled people and kids should know the ‘R’ word is the worst possible word.”

The derogatory and hurtful word may no longer be used in medical journals, but it can still be found in comedy sketches and other pop culture, and used on social media.

It’s a word that Aaron, who is 16 years old and has Down syndrome, has heard in the schoolyard.

The teen had one comment about the letter: “Why is the government calling me the ‘R’ word?”

Robins said she wants the ministry to better understand people in the disability community and avoid mistakes like this in the future. She suggested forming a committee of those with lived experiences to get feedback on its communications and how its services are delivered in general.

“If they did that and created a more person-centered system, then the whole thing would be turned upside down,” she said, adding that it could be just what is needed to make navigating the government requirements to access services less complex and tedious.

“It’s not centered on Aaron right now, it’s a part-time job to figure out.”


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

disabilitiesProvincial Government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Making memories: Quesnel Lake a second home for Gerich family

The family moved around B.C. for work but always returned to Quesnel Lake

Quesnel and District Daycare needs to find new home by winter

The daycare is a non-profit society and has asked city for help

This and that for seniors: play phone magic now for real

My smartphone … yes, I do have one, is way smarter than me

B.C. identifies 20 new COVID-19 cases, travellers specified in count

Pandemic total 3,028 cases, 51 people from outside Canada

Survey, hotline launched amid probe into racist blood-alcohol guessing game at B.C. hospital

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been appointed to lead an investigation by Health Minister Adrian Dix

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

Large rogue floating ‘island’ corralled by Lac la Hache residents

At least 60 feet wide, this large mass of plants is free-floating on the lake

Filing deadline in RCMP sexual-harassment class-action extended due to COVID-19

Plaintiffs now have until January 2021 to submit claims for up to $222,000

Jamie Bacon pleads guilty to charge in Surrey Six case

The plea brings an end to a complex legal case that has spanned more than a decade

Hefty undeclared driver charges piling up, ICBC warns customers

Average extra penalty $2,971 after an at-fault accident

B.C. appeals judge’s decision to leave three clubhouses in Hells Angels hands

The province has filed two notices of appeal related to the B.C. Supreme Court decision

Conservation officers relocate Spirit bear known to roam northwestern B.C.

Bear roamed valley north of Terrace for many years

Most Read