Spread the Word to End the Word

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In 2008, the Special Olympics launched the website www.r-word.org as a first step to eliminating the word “retarded” in a derogatory sense. They felt that the word’s meaning had been altered from a strictly medical term to a common word in society used to refer to things in a negative way. In their organization with the motto “Spread the Word to End the Word”, people of all ages pledge to stop using the r-word. By the end of 2011, over 200,000 pledges were collected.

As an international project, this organization has reached all over America. From coast to coast, people make pledges every day in support of eliminating the r-word. The annual campaign took place March 7 and as a result, events were set up across the country. The purpose of these campaigns is to raise awareness of the hurtful feelings this derogatory word causes and give people the opportunity to pledge against saying it.

GLSD gave students an opportunity to make a pledge on Wednesday March 7. At the elementary schools, kids were taught lessons about the r-word and being kind. At the junior high, students could pledge during homeroom. The high school made a morning announcement which directed students to the www.r-word.org where they could make a pledge.

There is great importance in raising awareness of the hurtful meaning given to the r-word. Kelly Gibson, the GLSD psychologist intern, helped plan the events for this organization within the district. “When people use the r-word, it’s often not used in an offensive way. However, people with intellectual disabilities can still take offense,” said Gibson.

On Saturday, March 3rd, an event took place at the Westmoreland Mall sponsored by Spread the Word to End the Word to raise awareness and collect pledges. Students from the senior high volunteered their time to spread the word and get people to pledge.

Senior Drew Eline worked at a station where she handed out bracelets and chocolate to those who made a pledge. “People don’t realize the fact that the word affects people with intellectual challenges. It affects them and their families. Our society has just gotten so used to saying it casually,” Eline said.

Other students who helped spread the word include Alex Brant, Geoffrey Critchfield, Dan Ferguson, Brendan Moss, Mickey Orange, Phil Piontkowski, Katie Thompson, and Rob Vasinko.

Brendan Moss’s experience had a significant impact on his perspective. He made a pledge against using the r-word. “I like to stand up for people because as a person that could do something, I had to do something,” said Moss.

The word “mental retardation” was changed to “intellectual disabilities” by Rosa’s Law, which was federally enacted last year, and recently enacted by the state of Pennsylvania.

 The law began because a freshman boy from Maryland felt the word had taken on such a derogatory meaning. As his sister, Rosa, has an intellectual disability, he knows how hurtful it can be.

“Using the word so casually dehumanizes people with intellectual disabilities,” said Gibson.

Regina Sciullo is enthusiastic about the cause and lent a huge hand to the Westmoreland County mission in “Spread the Word to End the Word”. “I feel it is a personal honor to my son, Nick, who is a sophomore at the senior high. Nick has always felt included and part of the school due to acceptance without hesitation by students, teachers and staff,” said Sciullo. She feels strongly that GLSD is a positive environment where each student is accepted. “Greater Latrobe should feel proud to have been a part of the 2012 ‘Spread the Word to End The Word’ campaign,” she said.

People all over the world are encouraged to consider those around them and stop using the deprecating term by taking a stand, and making a pledge.