Spread the Word to End the Word

Pledging to stop saying the R-word to help create more accepting attitudes and communities for all.
Spread the Word to End the Word at UFV

Special Olympics champions throughout the province and around the world support the Spread the Word to End the Word® campaign to end the hurtful use of the R-word and promote respect and inclusion. Individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families and many friends - including thousands of celebrity supporters and students - use this inspiring campaign and the annual international awareness day to help stop the demeaning use of the R-word and rally people to pledge respect at r-word.org.

In addition to the grassroots events happening year-round in schools and communities throughout the province, SOBC and our supporters share messages of respect and understanding through social media on and around the Spread the Word to End the Word awareness day, reaching thousands of followers. Many celebrities, SOBC sponsors, sport organizations, and individuals help spread the word through posts and shares.

Former SOBC athlete Crystal Daley shared her perspective in a blog post: “I’m taking a stand to explain why not to use that word and use Respect instead. Every time I hear someone use that word around me or around others with special needs, it hurts because it’s very offensive, hurtful, and it’s like you don’t want to get to know me or others who have a disability,” she wrote. “One of my favorite sayings is Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover. Which is very true. So the next time when you use the word Retarded, I want you to think of me and many others who have a disability. We are just like everyone else – we want to be loved, respected and included. I challenge everyone, if you hear someone use the R-word, to tell them how hurtful it is to people who have special needs.”

In Abbotsford, SOBC coach and youth champion Roshan Gosal annually works with volunteers in all of the 11 high schools and local athletes to run the campaign in every school, and they have the support of their local Mayor as well as the University of the Fraser Valley. Read about their success in recent years where they have attracted more than 6,000 pledges of respect to date.

Click here to watch Gosal and SOBC Abbotsford athlete Paige Norton on Global BC!

Across Canada, supporters also pledge to end the R-word by joining our friends at motionball in saying there’s #NoGoodWay to use the R-word. 

Watch the video by Toronto singer Madison Tevlin

Watch champion Cabbie with stars from the Toronto Raptors, Maple Leafs, and Blue Jays

Sincere thanks to everyone who helps raise awareness and promote respect with Spread the Word to End the Word! r-word.org

It’s making a difference

On March 1, 2017, Special Olympics International released studies showing that a lot of progress has been made over the last nine years in promoting inclusion for all and changing attitudes and perceptions about people with intellectual disabilities. Teens, specifically, are standing up for inclusion and respect for all at school and in their communities. However, it appears that adults are aware of the R-word but are not as active in promoting inclusive behaviours.

Although the use of the R-word still exists and more acts of inclusion need to be encouraged, teens are having more connections with people with intellectual disabilities in school and in their neighborhoods, breaking down stereotypes and perceptions that exist for people with disabilities.

Several American studies from The Harris Poll conducted between 2008 and 2017 help provide a better picture of the use of the R-word by adults and teens, inclusive behaviours and overall acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities.  

Some of the key findings include:

  • Reinforcing respectful language: The growth in more compassionate positive responses when hearing the R-word is slightly more pronounced when the person being picked on has intellectual disabilities. Seventy per cent of teens in 2017 say they told the person 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. 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.
  • Changing perceptions: Fewer teenagers are reporting they don't know anyone with intellectual disabilities. Thirty-one per cent said they didn't personally know anyone with ID in 2008, compared to 24 per cent in 2016 and an ultimate low of 18 per cent in 2017. The growth seems to be driven by higher connections with students in school, friends who don't go to their school, and neighbors who have ID. 
  • Outdated attitudes of the ‘R-word’: Nearly three in 10 teens (27 per cent) and four in 10 adults (38 per cent) still think that there's nothing wrong with using the word "retarded" to describe a thing or situation (as opposed to a person).

“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. “These agents of inclusion are re-writing the youth experience to no longer exclude people with intellectual disabilities but to include them as peers, teammates, and friends. The movement happening in our school hallways is gaining traction and pace to create a more inclusive society -- and we will all be better for it.”

Through engagement with schools, organizations and communities, the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign is a tool for young people around the world to take a stand in their own communities and help change the conversation by eliminating the use of the R-word and replacing it with respect. The campaign highlights the harmful effects the word “retard(ed)” has on the millions of people with intellectual disabilities and their families and friends.

Use of the R-word, “retard” or “retarded,” is hurtful and painful and, whether intended or not, is a form of bullying. It is the same as any slur used against any minority group. Eliminating the use of this word is a step toward respect for all.

The Spread the Word to End the Word grassroots campaign was created in February 2009 by youth who participated in the Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit, held in conjunction with the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Idaho, USA. Led by Soeren Palumbo and Tim “Timbo” Shriver (son of Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver), 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 and has inspired thousands of K-12 schools and universities across the country to hold rallies enlisting young people to take the pledge.

To date, over 650,000 people have taken the pledge online to end the use of the R-word and millions more have signed banners and petitions throughout the world. Globally, supporters continue to use the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign to advocate on behalf of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to work to make our society more inclusive. 

Learn more at r-word.org