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Originally published Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 3:29 PM

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Rahm Emanuel right to sign pledge not to use the 'R-word'

Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's chief of staff, has apologized privately to disability rights advocates for using the word "retarded" in a derogatory way. He should apologize publicly, but at least he has signed on to a Special Olympics campaign to end such use of the "R-word."

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For more information, go to: www.r-word.org

IN the highest offices of the land, the chief of staff to the most powerful man in the world thoughtlessly makes a slur against people with intellectual disabilities.

Rahm Emanuel dressed down liberal activists for their strategy of criticizing more-conservative Democrats by saying, "That's f***ing retarded," according to The Wall Street Journal.

The profanity is not what is shocking, rather the derisive use of the word "retarded." This word should be discarded with all the other words that have denigrated people who are different — people of color or of certain religious or ethnic affiliations.

Yet, people with intellectual disabilities are still the safe scapegoats. In fact, less than a year ago, President Obama himself made fun of Special Olympics athletes on "The Tonight Show" when Jay Leno asked him about his bowling game.

Seems like the whole White House staff needs a sensitivity training refresher.

Though news of both gaffes was publicized widely, both Obama and Emanuel called up Timothy Shriver, CEO of the Special Olympics, to make a private apology. Wednesday, Emanuel met with Shriver and five other disability-rights leaders and again made a closed-door apology.

Though Shriver and the organization founded by his late mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, have done much to advocate for people with disabilities, he is not the oracle of the U.S. community of people with intellectual disabilities, able to dispense absolution for all Americans offended.

A private apology in either instance is not good enough. Not by a longshot.

At least Emanuel agreed to sign a pledge to end the use of the word "retarded." The pledge is part of the Special Olympics "Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign.

The pledge states: "I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities."

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