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Why 'Spread the Word to End the Word' Is So Important

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On March 31, 2009, the Special Olympics held their very first annual Spread the Word to End the Word National Awareness Day. Across the country, adults and students pledged to stop using the word “retarded” or any form of the R-word in their daily vocabulary. Since 2009, the National Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign Day has been officially changed to March 6 of every year.

The r-word first originated as a medical phrase, “mental retardation,” from the mid-1890s which was synonymous for slow or delayed. This term was a replacement for other derogatory words used at the time like “moron” or “idiot.” It wasn’t until the 1960s that this term took on an entirely different meaning used to insult people.

So why can’t we say the r-word and what makes it a poor choice? It’s the way the word has evolved and adapted into a negative way to make fun of those with disabilities. Instead of saying, “That’s so ridiculous,” people are now saying, “That’s so r*******” and comparing it to those who have some form of disability or “delay.”

Individuals with disabilities are already facing discrimination and adversity within their communities. They are often victims of sexual assaults, bullying, workplace discrimination, and sometimes even murdered for being who they are. Adding insulting and derogatory terms is just unnecessary — and it’s extremely simple to erase the r-word from everyday use and replace it with another, more appropriate term.

Alternatives to the r-word

Help us eradicate the r-word by spreading awareness and advocating for those with disabilities. You can take the pledge to stop saying the word at Spread the Word. Below are resources you can use and share via social media, email, your workplace and schools to help spread the message.

  1. Spread the Word
  2. Special Olympics
  3. Best Buddies
  4. R-Word Pledge

Getty image by Nd3000.

Originally published: July 14, 2020
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