Special Olympics and Best Buddies International Celebrate 8th Annual Spread the Word to End the Word® Day on March 2nd

Survey findings reveal R-word still remains 'acceptable' when referring to oneself or teasing friends

Mar 02, 2016, 09:17 ET from Special Olympics

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Special Olympics, Best Buddies International, and supporters from around the world will unite today on the eighth annual 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 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). Although a lot of progress has been made over the last eight years in promoting inclusion for all and changing attitudes and perceptions about people with intellectual disabilities, unfortunately stigma and misunderstanding around the R-word still exist. In Maria Shriver's recent national report, titled The Shriver Report Snapshot: Insight into Intellectual Disabilities in the 21st Century, findings reveal that although young Americans have more progressive attitudes toward and expectations for people with intellectual disabilities, many young Americans, especially men, find using the word 'retard' acceptable when used to tease friends or oneself, not in reference to people with a clear intellectual disability.  

Some of the key findings include:

  • 89% of Americans think it is offensive to call someone with a clear intellectual disability "retarded"
  • 56% of Americans feel it is not offensive to refer to oneself as "retarded" when they make a mistake
  • 38% of Americans feel it is not offensive to call a friend "retarded" when they do something foolish

The groundbreaking poll from Shriver Media and Special Olympics, supported by the Richard and Cecilia Attias Foundation, conducted online by Harris Poll, reveals that the more than half of Americans who have personal contact with someone with intellectual disabilities are increasingly accepting and positive. Millennial women, ages 18-34, in general, are the most compassionate, inclusive and progressive of any group surveyed, but there is still more work to be done.

"Leaders and advocates with and without IDD have made great progress on this issue over the last 8 years. But each use of 'retarded' to mean foolish, hapless, or undesirable is another painful reminder to the community with IDD that many still view them not as a friend, peer, co-worker or valued citizen but rather as an object of derision and exclusion," said Soeren Palumbo, co-founder of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign.  "Today, we build on increasingly positive attitudes of youth and young adults towards people with IDD by asking them to create communities of inclusion with actions and words; help us end the R-word and spread a new conversation of acceptance, friendship, and empowerment."       

Through engagement with schools, organizations and communities, 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 and replacing it with 'respect.'  The campaign 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 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 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, over 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.  This year, Spread the Word to End the Word supporters -- including the B. Thomas Golisano Foundation and WWE -- have activated their communities to engage around the day with pledge events.

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. 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!' This year, Stephens has written a poem calling for individuals around the nation to stand up for inclusion.

"We have seen this campaign grow from a group of young people huddled around a table at a conference in 2009 to a movement spanning the globe in 2016," said Timbo Shriver, co-founder of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign. "The impact of these young leaders has clearly been felt in classrooms and on campuses across the world. And it's clear we have more work to be done."

Through these and other important milestones, the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign has continued to advocate on behalf of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to work to make our society more inclusive. Special Olympics offers Unified Sports and inclusive leadership and education activities in over 4,300 schools in 47 states and Washington, DC, across the country and many of those schools support Spread the Word to End the Word efforts through running pledge stations or holding student rallies to promote inclusion. 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 1,900 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 the organization's commitment to creating inclusive opportunities for people with IDD on a global level. 

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 35,000 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 change the game for people with ID at http://r-word.org

We also want to use this year's Spread the Word to End the Word awareness day as an opportunity to encourage more people to not only take the pledge, but to become part of our Movement.  After taking the pledge, you may ask, now what?  Share one of the below tweets with your followers:

Make your pledge at r-word.org? Time to #PlayUnified & change the game for people w/ID.  Join us now: http://playunified.org

About Special Olympics
Special Olympics is a global movement that unleashes the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sports, every day around the world. We empower people with intellectual disabilities to become accepted and valued members of their communities, which leads to a more respectful and inclusive society for all. Using sports as the catalyst and programming around health and education, Special Olympics is fighting inactivity, injustice and intolerance. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown to more than 4.5 million athletes in 170 countries. With the support of more than 1.4 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and more than 94,000 games and competitions throughout the year. Special Olympics is supported by individuals, foundations and partners, including the Christmas Records Trust, the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics, The Coca-Cola Company, The Walt Disney Company and ESPN, Microsoft, Lions Clubs International, Toys"R"Us, Mattel, P&G, Bank of America, Essilor Vision Foundation, the B. Thomas Golisano Foundation, Finish Line, The Safeway Foundation, and Safilo Group. Visit Special Olympics at www.specialolympics.org. Engage with us on: Twitter @specialolympics, fb.com/specialolympics, youtube.com/specialolympicshq, instagram.com/specialolympics 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 1,900 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 900,000 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

About Shriver Media
Shriver Media is a 21st Century socially-conscious media company that produces films, documentaries, original digital reporting and live events to inform, inspire, enlighten and entertain. Our team collaborates with like-minded partners and offers diverse media brands that we believe can impact individuals and society in a positive way. We ignite hearts and minds.  Visit us at ShriverMedia.com.


SOURCE Special Olympics