It's in the press again. I search to find out the context of the word. I see debates all over the Web, people bemoaning the "politically correct" and the "word police" and making ridiculous claims about having to ban the concept of a "fire retardant." Last I looked there's never been a protest about products that protect from fire. 

Last I looked there's only ever been protests about the use of a word that demeans a group of people.

No matter what the fearless defenders of freedom of speech say, there is a huge difference between a word to describe something that slows fire and someone who learns differently. There's a huge difference between a thing and a person -- but, no, maybe not. After reading their diatribes regarding their freedom to spit out hurtful words, they may, really, not see people with disabilities as fully human with a human heart capable human hurt.

People mock the concept of respectful language regarding disability. People make odd arguments about the latest gaffe by ... no, I won't say her name here ... they say "she was saying that of herself not anyone else" -- um, so? The word she used was one referring, not to a commercial product, but to an oppressed minority. 

Yet the debate rages on and the fierceness of the attack by those who are proponents of the use of hate language are both hysterical and who often purposely miss the point. One wonders what's at stake -- their personal liberty to hurt others?

It's time to recognize that the "R" word is an attack against who people with intellectual disabilities "are," it is an attack against the group that they belong to. It is like other words that exist to slur an entire people --unacceptable. 

The fact that people do not see the seriousness of the word and the attack it represents is simply a result of the fact that they do not take the "people" who wear that label seriously. 

The concerns of those with intellectual disabilities have always been diminished and trivialized. There is a sneaking suspicion that they "don't understand, poor dears," that they "miss the point, little lambs" so therefore their anger need not be feared as justified.

The people who "ARE" what the "R" word refers to have a long history.

They have been torn from families and cast into institutions.

They have been beaten, hosed down, over medicated, under nourished, sterilized, brutalized, victimized.

They have been held captive, have been enslaved, have had their being given over to the state.

They are the group in society most likely to be physically, sexually and financially abused.

They are the group least likely to see justice, experience fair play, receive accommodation or support within the justice system.

They are the group most likely to be bullied, most likely to be tyrannized, most likely to be the target of taunts.

They are the least likely to have their hurt taken seriously, physical hurt, emotional hurt, spiritual hurt.

They are most likely to be ignored when they speak of pain, have their words diminished by an assumption of diminished capacity.

They are the least likely to ever be seen as equal, as equivalent and entirely whole.

They are the victim of some of the most widespread and pervasive prejudices imaginable.

They are those whom the Nazis thought unworthy of life, they are those targeted by geneticists for non-existence, they need fear those who wear black hats and those who wear white coats.

They are educated only under protest, they are included as a concession rather than a right, they are neighbours only because petitions failed to keep them out.

They are kept from the leadership of their own movement, they are ignored by the media, their stories are told to glorify Gods that they do not worship.

That they are a "people" is questioned even though they have a unique history, a unique voice, a unique perception of the world.

That they are a "community" is questioned even though they have commonality, they have mutual goals, they have a collective vision of the future.

That they are have a legitimate place at the table is questioned simply because no one's ever offered a seat.

They are a people.

They ask for respect and receive pity.

They ask for fair play and are offered charity.

They ask for justice and wipe spittle off their face.

They ask to silence words that brutalize them and their concerns are trivialized.

They ask to walk safely through their communities and yet bullies go unpunished.

They ask to participate fully and they are denied access and accommodation and acceptance.

And this is NOW.

This is the people who have walked the land of the long corridor, who have waited at the frontier of our bias to finally be here, now. They have survived. They have come home. They have continued, silently and without fanfare, to take hold of freedom and live with dignity. They have given everything they have for what others take for granted. Their civil liberties are perceived as "gifts" as "tokens" and as "charity." Their rights are seen as privileges. Their movement is, as of yet, unacknowledged. They are a people recently emancipated, new citizens, who are tentatively discovering their voice.

It is a voice not yet heard.

It is a voice not yet respected.

It is a voice not yet understood.

But it is speaking.

And when it is finally heard. The world will change.

The "R" word is an attack on a people who know discrimination. Tremble when you say it. Because those who should know better will be held accountable to those who know best.

Dave Hingsburger is the Director of Clinical and Educational Supports for Vita Community Living Services. He is a highly sought after public speaker and educator. He is a wheelchair user and author of several books and a popular disability blog, Rolling Around In My Head.

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