Their Voice: International campaign encourages inclusion

February 17, 2019
Monica Villar

My Facebook friend, Amber, posted a reminder today that it is time to once again join the campaign to “spread the word to end the word.”

Founded in 2009 and supported by organizations such as Best Buddies and Special Olympics, the message was clear “The world would be better if all people were valued, respected, embraced and included in the games we play and the friends we make in our schools, workplaces and communities.” Since 2009, the campaign has grown from a handful of events to thousands of schools in 2018.

For the last 10 years, the focus has been on reaching out and removing the hurt caused to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities of the “R-Word.” In that time millions of people across thousands of schools across dozens of countries have taken the simple pledge to stop using the word “retard” or “retarded” to describe or define their peers with special needs. As of the writing of this column there have been 780,511 pledges made so far toward the “Spread the Word Day”, March 6th.

With momentum and support growing, the focus of 2019 has changed from “Spread the Word to End the Word” to simply “Spread the Word.” The goal has expanded to not just the elimination of the word, which in itself is powerful, to the “creation of a new reality: inclusion for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” Further, the new mission is to “empower leaders to change their communities, schools, and workplaces through a call to their peers to commit to taking action for inclusion.”

There is still time as youth leaders, educators, family members or just community partners to join this campaign and begin to spread the word. There are a lot of suggestions for doing so on their webpage www.spreadtheword.global/take-action from simply making an online pledge to creating specific events that highlight the goals.

On her Facebook post, my friend, Amber, expressed it well by stating “people don’t understand the long lasting effects that this (word) has on me and my fellow special Olympic athletes…” As an advocate for this amazing population, I think as a community we have come a long way toward inclusion but it still surprises me how many times I hear this word in reference to someone with special needs. I know that the intention is not harmful but the experience of the word is still hurtful.

On behalf of all of my friends who have been hurt from the use of this word, I encourage everyone to join this campaign and continue to push toward inclusion on March 6 and beyond.