A comment of Shasta's on another post made me think about this. In the past several years, I have tried very hard to stop using the word "retard" as an insult. But it's not because I really *felt* the gravity or offense of it in, say, the same way I understand how very offensive the N word is. (See? I won't even use that word.) Mainly I stopped because I knew some people found it offensive, and unless I have a particular reason to use certain language, I try to avoid offending others. Still, I didn't feel the wrongness of it. It never offended me.
And then Ann Coulter stuck her foot in her mouth again, and in the midst of the public response came this reasonable, heartfelt, and articulate response, and I understood in a way that before I really hadn't how mean and wrong it is to use the word retard as an insult: http://specialolympicsblog.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/an-open-letter-to-ann-coulter/.
I knew it had really stuck when a brother-in-law of mine posted a picture of a person with Downs Syndrome with a mocking caption and instead of being slightly embarrassed at the non-PC-ness of it, I was actually offended (and about to tell him off till I realized that a few months ago I wouldn't have found it offensive myself). I don't think we should take offense when none is intended, and there's a fine line between being overly sensitive and reasonably offended. But yeah, I get it now. I can now say that for me, at least, I do not use that term as an insult. It is no longer "I try not to."
(I still need to figure out why "little people" is the preferred term ... I think I'd rather be called a dwarf or even midget. "Little person" sounds so condescending. I am not sure when that one is gonna stick with me.)