50 moments: Spread the Word to End the Word launched to change the conversation

Spread the Word to End the R-word in Abbotsford 2015
SOBC – Abbotsford coach Roshan Gosal (third from right) and Abbotsford youth and athletes advocating respect in their community in 2015.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics this year, we are taking a look back at the #50moments that have defined the Special Olympics movement here in B.C. and throughout the world.

In 2009, Spread the Word to End the Word was founded by U.S. college students Soeren Palumbo and Tim Shriver, starting the conversation on respect and calling on everyone to pledge to end the R-word.

The Spread the Word to End the Word grassroots campaign was created after Palumbo and Shriver (son of Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver) participated in the Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit, held in conjunction with the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Idaho, USA.

The campaign evolved out of a united passion to promote the positive contributions people with ID make in communities around the world. It was combined with a simple call to action to take the pledge to end the R-word. 

A decade in, the campaign continues to open hearts and minds to show respect and inclusion and end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. To date, thousands of people in K-12 schools, universities, and communities around the world have participated in rallies enlisting everyone to take the pledge, and more than 780,000 people have made online pledges to stop using the R-word.

Here in B.C., caring youths, dedicated volunteers, inspiring athletes, and champions of Special Olympics have made a difference using the campaign to advocate for inclusion and respectful language throughout the province. Please click here to read more.
The campaign’s annual day of awareness is held the first Wednesday of March, which in 2019 will be March 6. While many activities are held on or near the awareness day, people everywhere help spread the word year-round throughout their communities and schools through a range of events including pledge drives, rallies, and online activation.

The campaign has made progress in spreading the word to end the R-word, but we have a long way to go in ending all types of discrimination for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Respectful and inclusive words and actions are essential to the movement for the dignity and humanity of people with intellectual disabilities.

Recent American studies from The Harris Poll conducted over the last decade show 70 per cent of teens say they told someone it was wrong to say the R-word, compared to 48 per cent in 2008. Virtually no one said they didn't care or joined in, a significant drop from 2008 numbers of 12 per cent and four per cent, respectively. But when looking at adults standing up for respectful language, only 63 per cent of adults told the person it was the wrong thing to say.

Hurtful language and acts of exclusion are painful and demeaning, whether intended or not. Language affects attitudes. Attitudes impact actions. Make your pledge for inclusion today at spreadtheword.global.

Please click here to read about SOBC’s Roshan Gosal, Austin Johnston, and Wayne Williams participating in the 2019 Global Youth Leadership Summit with a Spread the Word Inclusion project to help expand the campaign throughout B.C.