When they were originally introduced, the terms “mental retardation” or “mentally retarded” were medical terms with a specifically clinical connotation; however, the pejorative forms, “retard” and “retarded” have been used widely in today’s society to degrade and insult people with intellectual disabilities. Additionally, when “retard” and “retarded” are used as synonyms for “dumb” or “stupid” by people without disabilities, it only reinforces painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities being less valued members of humanity.
Spread the Word to End the Word™ is an ongoing effort by Special Olympics, Best Buddies and R-Word, Spread the Word to End the Word to raise the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the word “retard(ed)” and encourage people to pledge to stop using the R-word.
The campaign, created by youth, is intended to engage schools organizations and communities to rally and pledge their support and to promote the inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The official annual day of awareness is held the first Wednesday of every March. While most activities are centered on or near that annual day in March, people everywhere can help spread the word throughout their communities and schools year-round thru pledge drives, youth rallies and online activation.
Spread the Word to End the Word was founded by college students Soeren Palumbo (Notre Dame 2011) and Tim Shriver (Yale 2011) in 2009, and continues to be led by passionate young people, Special Olympics athletes and Best Buddies participants across the United States and in many other parts of the world.
Respectful and inclusive language is essential to the movement for the dignity and humanity of people with intellectual disabilities. However, much of society does not recognize the hurtful, dehumanizing and exclusive effects of the word “retard(ed).”
If you would like to learn how you can Spread the Word to End the Word click here.
“What’s wrong with “retard”? I can only tell you what it means to me and people like me when we hear it. It means that the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like you and something that none of you would ever want to be. We are something outside the “in” group. We are someone that is not your kind. I want you to know that it hurts to be left out here, alone.” – Joseph Franklin Stephens, Special Olympics Virginia athlete and Global Messenger
“Words matter. People don’t need to scoff at others to make a point. Everyone has a gift and the world would be better off if we recognized it.” – Tim Shriver, CEO of Special Olympics
“The word retard is considered hate speech because it offends people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as the people that care for and support them. It alienates and excludes them. It also emphasizes the negative stereotypes surrounding people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; the common belief that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities should be segregated, hidden away from society, which, in my opinion, is really old fashioned.” – Karleigh Jones, Special Olympics New Zealand athlete
“When you say the “R” word it makes people feel bad and it hurts my feelings and I don’t want to hear you guys say it. Instead, you can call me a leader, a hero, or a human being, but please don’t call me the “R” word.” – Dony Knight, Special Olympics Oregon athlete
“Because the word has become a casual description of anything negative or flawed, ‘retarded’ is no longer considered an appropriate way to describe people with intellectual disabilities. And any use of the word, even when used as slang and not intended to be offensive, is hurtful – because it will always be associated with people who have disabilities.” – Sara Mitton, Board Member, Treasure Valley Down Syndrome Association
“It hurts and scares me when I am the only person with intellectual disabilities on the bus and young people start making “retard” jokes or references. Please put yourself on that bus and fill the bus with people who are different from you. Imagine that they start making jokes using a term that describes you. It hurts and it is scary.” – Joseph Franklin Stephens, Special Olympics Virginia athlete and Global Messenger