Special Olympics and Best Buddies Celebrate 6th Annual Spread the Word to End the Word® Day on March 5th

Mar 05, 2014, 09:38 ET from Special Olympics

WASHINGTON, March 5, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Special Olympics, Best Buddies, and supporters from around the world will unite today on the sixth Spread the Word to End the Word® day to continue building awareness for society to stop and think about its use of the R-word and rally people around the world to pledge respect toward all individuals, making the world a more accepting and inclusive place for all people, especially those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Through engagement with schools, organizations and communities, Spread the Word to End the Word highlights the harmful effects the word "retard(ed)" has on the millions of people with IDD, 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.  Eliminating the use of this word is a step toward respect.

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. Led by Soeren Palumbo and Timbo Shriver (son of Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver), the campaign evolved out of a united passion to promote the positive contributions people with IDD make in communities around the world. It was combined with a simple call to action to take the pledge and inspired thousands of K-12 schools and universities across the country to hold rallies enlisting young people to take the pledge. To date, nearly 500,000 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.  "We've had noticeable and sustainable impact, but these changes have not come easily, and six years ago, we were met with stiff opposition online and were repeatedly told that our efforts were a violation of free speech and that changing language was a 'waste of time,'" said Soeren Palumbo, co-founder of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign.  "Change is about more than words.  Change is about words and more.  The words we use serve as filters that distort our understanding of ourselves and those around us. And when we remove filters tinted with years of stigma and prejudice, then we can begin to see each other's humanity a bit more clearly, and begin to act accordingly." 

What started as one single action of taking the pledge has evolved into communities across the world challenging others to talk, think and write with respect.  A letter-writing campaign and social media blitz led by the Special Olympics Youth Activation Summit drew more attention to the campaign – as well as an apology – on American television host and political commentator Bill O'Reilly's show after the R-word was used. Most recently, Special Olympics athlete John Franklin Stephens led the charge via a blog post that went viral when pundit Ann Coulter lashed out with the word.  Stephens received support from over 3 million people through social media in just a matter of days.  Supporters from across the country were urging Stephens to 'run for President!' The F/X network now includes the R-word as one of three words that are not allowed to be broadcast.  MTV has also embraced the campaign by bleeping out the R-word just like any other curse word or slur in shows like "The Real World" and "Teen Mom."   In 2010, a Maryland woman with an intellectual disability was the inspiration for Rosa's Law.  The bill, championed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyom.), garnered overwhelming support in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Starting that year, federal agencies dropped the terms "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" in federal health, education and labor laws and replaced them with "intellectual disability" -- and since then, almost every state has passed similar legislation. Through these and other important milestones, Spread the Word to End the Word has continued to advocate on behalf of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to work to make our society more inclusive.

Youth leadership and athlete advocacy has played a large role in the history of the campaign and continues to build awareness for Spread the Word to End the Word. Special Olympics Project UNIFY®, in large part supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Education, is an education-based project that uses sports and education programs to activate young people to develop school communities where all youth are agents of change – fostering respect, dignity and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities.  Project UNIFY is already in over 2,100 schools in 42 states across the country and many of those schools support Spread the Word to End the Word efforts.  Best Buddies International youth programs promote one-to-one friendship opportunities and leadership development in schools around the world, raising awareness and acceptance for people with IDD in their communities. With over 1,700 middle school, high school, and college chapters worldwide, the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign has become an integral part of the Best Buddies mission and showcases Best Buddies' commitment to creating inclusive opportunities for people with IDD on a global level.  The Spread the Word to End the Word campaign urges 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 from today's popular youth vernacular and replacing it with "respect."  Up to three percent of the world's population (roughly 200 million people around the world) have an intellectual disability and youth initiatives like Special Olympics Project UNIFY® bring youth with and without intellectual disabilities together to change attitudes and reverse the destructive stigma against those with IDD.

"When Soeren and I started the campaign six years ago, we believed that we could show our friends and fellow students the devastating impact one word in particular could have on an individual and truly believed that recognizing the power of words to harm would inspire young people to do the opposite – to use their words to change the hearts, minds and actions of their own communities for the better," said Timbo Shriver, co-founder of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign.  "Finally, we believed that young people -- empowered by a movement of their peers -- could change how we see and treat individuals with disabilities with their words, and then more.  We have accomplished that goal but want more.  Today, we ask that you help us change our words, and then more.  Start by visiting r-word.org and take the pledge today."

Get Involved!

Engage with us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/EndtheWord or Twitter at http://twitter.com/EndtheWord, so that we can reach our goal of gaining 50,000 tweets/re-tweets of the pledge in this year alone! Tweet this pledge today:

I pledge #Respect thru my words and actions. Will you? Pledge now to create communities of inclusion for people with ID r-word.org

About Special Olympics International
Special Olympics is an international organization that changes lives through the power of sport by encouraging and empowering people with intellectual disabilities, promoting acceptance for all, and fostering communities of understanding and respect worldwide. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown from a few hundred athletes to more than 4 million athletes in 170 countries in all regions of the world, providing year-round sports training, athletic competition and other related programs. Special Olympics now takes place every day, changing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities all over the world, from community playgrounds and ball fields in every small neighborhood's backyard to World Games. Special Olympics provides people with intellectual disabilities continuing opportunities to realize their potential, develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, and experience joy and friendship. Visit Special Olympics at www.specialolympics.org. Engage with us on: Twitter @specialolympics; fb.com/specialolympics; youtube.com/specialolympicshq, and specialolympicsblog.wordpress.com.

About Best Buddies International
Best Buddies® is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver, Best Buddies is a vibrant organization that has grown from one original chapter to more than 1,700 middle school, high school, and college chapters worldwide. Today, Best Buddies' eight formal programs — Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens, e-Buddies® , Jobs, Ambassadors, and Promoters — engage participants in each of the 50 states and in over 50 countries, positively impacting the lives of more than 800,000 people with and without disabilities around the world. In many cases, as a result of their involvement with Best Buddies, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities secure rewarding jobs, live on their own, become inspirational leaders, and make lifelong friendships. For more information, please visit www.bestbuddies.org, facebook.com/bestbuddies or twitter.com/bestbuddies.

SOURCE Special Olympics