Despite the efforts of disability advocates, a new national poll finds use of the word “retard” remains commonplace and many Americans see nothing wrong with it.

More than 90 percent of teens and adults say they’ve heard someone refer to another person as a retard. Roughly half of those polled said the reference was aimed at an individual with intellectual disability.

The findings come from an online survey of 2,319 adults and 512 teens ages 13-17 across the country conducted by The Harris Poll between January 24 and February 3.

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In cases where participants reported hearing a person called a retard, about 50 percent said they felt bad or sorry for the subject of the attack and roughly the same number reported that they told the perpetrator it was wrong to say.

Women were more likely than men to speak up, as were those living in a household with someone with intellectual disability, the survey found. People were also more likely to say something in cases where the person called a retard had intellectual disability.

The Harris Poll suggests that there has been little change in American habits surrounding such language even as Special Olympics, Best Buddies and other disability advocacy groups have worked in recent years to call attention to use of the word retard and its offensive connotations to those touched by disabilities.

The survey found that 27 percent of teens and 38 percent of adults agreed that there was nothing wrong with describing a thing or situation as retarded.

And, adults today are more likely to say that they’ve heard someone called a retard than a year ago. Meanwhile, 91 percent of teens said as much, down just slightly from 95 percent in 2008.

However, there are some signs that young people are becoming more sensitive. The vast majority of teens said that they personally know someone with intellectual disability and the number of adolescents who indicated they intervened when they heard someone called a retard jumped 21 percentage points compared to nine years ago, the poll found. What’s more, almost none of the teens surveyed said they were indifferent or joined in when these situations arose.

“Teens embracing inclusion and advocating against the demeaning and dehumanizing use of the r-word are spreading a new conversation of acceptance, friendship and empowerment,” said Soeren Palumbo, co-founder of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, a push to get people to commit to stop using the word retard.

Roughly 9 in 10 of those surveyed said they are comfortable being neighbors with or participating in a group with people who have intellectual disability. Only 13 percent of adults and 10 percent of teens indicated that they would not want to be friends with someone with such a diagnosis.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that 91 percent of teens said that they’ve heard someone called a retard, a figure that is down slightly from 95 percent in 2008.

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