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 His mom, Sue Robins, has voiced concerns after an email from the Ministry of Child and Family Development included outdated terminology for those with disabilities.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 Instead, it was an outdated and derogatory two-word term for people with disabilities, used twice, that sparked feelings of anguish and frustration.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 But the outdated terminology was replaced in 2013 with the term “intellectual disability” after then-U.S. President Barack Obama signed a law which required its predecessor to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

UPDATED: Interior Health to add 495 long-term seniors care beds

Nelson, Kelowna, Kamloops, Vernon and Penticton to receive new facilities

Donnie’s Golf Tournament heads into year six

All proceeds of the event go to the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

Clearwater Elks taking a hit because of COVID-19

President Marnie Burnell noted the group was already hurting before the pandemic came into effect

Back in Time

Historical Perspective

21 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in B.C. as virus ‘silently circulates’ in broader community

Health officials urge British Columbians to enjoy summer safely as surge continues

Tough time for tree fruits as some B.C. farm products soar

Province reports record 2019 sales, largely due to cannabis

Northern Indigenous cannabis cultivation facility to supply over 60 private B.C. stores

Construction to soon resume on Nations Cannabis in Burns Lake

‘Let’s all do a self-check’: Okanagan mayor reacts to racist vandalism targeting local family

Home of Indo-Canadian family in Summerland was targeted on evening of July 13

Province agrees to multimillion-dollar payout for alleged victims of Kelowna social worker

Robert Riley Saunders is accused of misappropriating funds of children — often Indigenous — in his care

B.C. businessman David Sidoo gets 3 months behind bars for college admissions scam

Sidoo was sentenced for hiring someone take the SATs in place of his two sons

PHOTOS: Inside a newly-listed $22M mega-mansion on ALR land in B.C.

The large home, located on ALR land, is one of the last new mansions to legally be built on ALR land

Thousands of dollars in stolen rice found in B.C. warehouse

Police raid seizes $75,000 in ‘commercial scale’ theft case

COVID-19 gives B.C. First Nation rare chance to examine tourism’s impact on grizzly bears

With 40 infrared cameras deployed in Kitasoo-Xai’Xais territory, research will help develop tourism plan with least impact on bears

Most Read