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Spread the Word to End the R Word Campaign

  • Published: 2009-03-11 (Revised/Updated 2017-12-24) : Author: Special Olympics
  • Synopsis: Special Olympics announced youth-lead effort Spread the Word to End the Word 3.31.09 encouraging people to stop using the derogatory word retard.

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"Most people don't think of this word as the language of hate, but that's exactly what it feels like to millions of people with intellectual disabilities, their families and friends."

Special Olympics announced today a new youth-lead effort - Spread the Word to End the Word - 3.31.09, encouraging people nationwide to pledge to stop using the derogatory word "retard."

The day will be devoted to educating and raising awareness about individuals with intellectual disabilities and the offensive use of the "R-word" in casual conversation. Spread the Word to End the Word is a collaborative promotion engaging Special Olympics leaders, celebrities, opinion leaders and the media.

Actor John C. McGinley, star of the hit television show "Scrubs" and Ambassador of the National Down Syndrome Society, pledged his support for Spread the Word to End the Word after meeting with more than 130 young adults during a Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit in February held in conjunction with the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games. McGinley was inspired by the motivation, creativity and passion the youth demonstrated in helping raise awareness about this issue and their dedication to stop the casual use of the "R-word."

"Most people don't think of this word as the language of hate, but that's exactly what it feels like to millions of people with intellectual disabilities, their families and friends," said McGinley. McGinley appeared on "The Bonnie Hunt Show" and TV Guide Network promoting this endeavor and will continue to promote this issue.

McGinley added, "I choose to believe that most of us are fundamentally good and that we're just not aware that the word is offensive and that it hurts."

That is exactly the goal of Spread the Word to End the Word - promote awareness and initiate change. McGinley and young people want to change casual conversation and help eliminate the demeaning use of the R-word from today's popular youth vernacular and replace it with a different R-word - "respect."

Students and schools across the country will unite to challenge everyone to think before they speak. Spread the Word to End the Word - 3.31.09 will follow a week of campaigning, mainly through viral media, posters and word-of-mouth encouraging everyone to pledge to stop the use of the word at Youth have set a goal to garner 100,000 online pledges through this campaign.

Special Olympics launched its activities and Web site to eliminate the demeaning use of the R-word in today's society in August 2008 when the film "Tropic Thunder" hit theaters. Special Olympics, along with a coalition of 17 disability organizations throughout the United States, including National Down Syndrome Society, American Association of People with Disabilities, The Arc of the United States and Best Buddies, spoke out against the film, which featured the prominent use of the R-word.

As the father of Max, his 11-year-old son with Down syndrome, McGinley is committed to building awareness and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities. He is currently serving in his seventh year as the national spokesperson for the National Down Syndrome Society's annual Buddy Walks, advocacy walks taking place in hundreds of cities across the United States and Canada in the fall.

In support of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign and all of Special Olympics' efforts to raise awareness of this issue, advertising agency BBDO New York created a series of posters intended to draw a parallel between using the R-word and using other offensive terms. The posters depict the emotions felt by people with intellectual disabilities when they hear these words used. This is just part of the overall pro-bono work that BBDO has been doing for the Special Olympics movement.

To get involved or find out more information on Spread the Word to End the Word - 3.31.09, visit

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