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Changing Language

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died Aug. 11, made a huge impact on how intellectual disabilities are viewed through the Special Olympics and her other work on behalf of those with intellectual disabilities. This was evident in many of the articles documenting the life of Shriver.

The best example of how the perception of people with disabilities changed over her lifetime can be found in two stories about Shriver published by the Christian Science Monitor: a profile published in 1975 and her obituary published Aug. 11. The two articles reveal a stark difference in the language used to describe those with intellectual disabilities. The 1975 piece used words such as “retarded and handicapped,” which would no longer be acceptable, but which is typical of how people with intellectual disabilities were referred to in that era.

The obituary is a good example of the use of accurate language to refer to disabilities, employing the terms “intellectually disabled” instead of mentally retarded. Other news organizations didn’t do quite as well, using the term mentally disabled, which is the standard Associate Press style.

Here are some examples of the coverage of Shriver’s death:

I’d like to know how you view the coverage of Schriver’s death. Leave a comment and let me know.