Today marks the first day for Special Olympics’ fifth annual “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign, which is dedicated to recognizing the hurtful effects that the words “retard” and “retarded” have.
Dan Ekonen, Special Olympics Michigan director of outreach and school initiatives, doesn’t think people who call others those words fully understand the pain they’re inflicting.
“You grow up and hear people say it all the time, but they don’t realize how hurtful it is toward our athletes or others,” Ekonen said. “Students can be leaders by sticking up for others and saying it is offensive. They can make a difference by calling out others who use the words.”
The “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign was founded by college students in 2009, and continues across campuses today. The campaign begins every year on the first Wednesday of March.
For the campaign, Special Olympics Michigan has scheduled events in an attempt to remove the words from everyday language. The organization has partnered with the Detroit Pistons by having SOMI athletes form the tunnel for the Pistons to run through as they make their way onto the court of The Palace in Auburn Hills.
Illinois freshman Maggie Grant participates at many Special Olympics Michigan events and encourages others to act when they hear the harmful words spoken.
“As students, we should make it our responsibility to do our best to end those words,” Grant said. “Everyone should be sensitive toward those words because they have a huge impact on the people it affects.”
Brenda Mather, assistant director of Student Disabilities Services, said the end of the word starts with the students who hear it and choose to act.
“The word itself is derogatory and very hurtful,” she said. “It fosters negativity, and people who say it lack the understanding of how much pain it causes. Students have to stand up and go out of their way to say that it is not ok to use those words.”
Mather said she prefers the term “cognitively impaired.”
The next major event is the Detroit “Spread the Word” rally, held on March 26 at Dixon Educational Learning Academy in Detroit.
For further information about the campaign visit r-word.org.