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Spread the Word to End the WordBy Giulia Frasca, Esq.

Spread the Word to End the Word is a movement started in February 2009 in conjunction with the World Winter Games to stop the use of the word “retarded” and its variants. Now, as the 2015 Special Olympics World Games are under way, Spread the Word to End the Word has over 500,000 online pledges and has caught the attention of celebrities and athletes who have joined in efforts to end the use of the R-word. Millions of people have signed the pledge on banners and petitions around the world.

The R-word, once used as a way to classify persons with intellectual disabilities, has taken on new meaning where it is used to insult, hurt and belittle others. The Spread the Word to End the Word movement seeks to eradicate this hateful and dehumanizing term for more respectful and inclusive language to protect the dignity and humanity of persons with intellectual disabilities. Part of the effort to create respectful communities where people are valued despite their abilities and disabilities includes removing the R-word and its variants from federal, state and local laws.

On October 5, 2010, U.S. President, Barack Obama, officially signed Rosa’s Law, bill S. 2781, into federal law. Rosa’s Law removes the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal health, education and labor policy and replaces them with the more respectful language “individual with an intellectual disability” and “intellectual disability.”

In addition to passing legislation that promotes inclusive language, the states of California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah and Vermont have issued proclamations declaring March 3″Spread the Word to End the Word” Day to help bring attention to this cause. Despite these great efforts to change the language on a national level, much still needs to be done on state and local levels to protect the dignity of persons with disabilities. It is important to raise awareness to help stop the use of the word casually as a synonym for “stupid” as Lebron James used it to describe reporters’ questions on two occasions and as Joe Flacco used it to describe the idea of holding the Super Bowl in a cold climate. By being more conscious of language choices, we can help create a more respectful and inclusive society.


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