“He is so retarded.” “Look how retarded that girl’s outfit is.” “That is retarded.” One may not always notice the offensiveness behind these types of statements and may use them in their everyday conversations but for some, the word retarded is just as bad, if not worse than using curse words.
According to www.r-word.org, the r-word campaign kicked off in 2004 at the request of Special Olympic athletes with intellectual disabilities who were uncomfortable being called mentally retarded. Since then, the campaign has spread vastly and events are being held by the Best Buddies organization and by the Special Olympics to continually bring awareness to the cause.
During the 12 years the campaign has run, over half a million people have signed an online pledge to stop using the word retarded which is seen by many as an extremely derogatory and hateful word which mocks people who have disabilities.
Each year on the first week of March, events are held nationwide to spread the r-word in hopes of ending the word. This year the official day to spread the word to end the word was Thursday, March 3, but it continues to be a topic that is discussed long after the official day each year.
Cabrini Friends of Exceptional Children (CFEC), a club on Cabrini’s campus, took action and got involved with the campaign on a local level.
“CFEC is an advocacy club for children with exceptional differences, this includes all children who may have a disability of some kind or come from a struggling background like poverty or abuse,” Vaughan Lynn, early education with special education major and current president of CFEC, said.
Because of the club’s mission, the spread the word campaign is an important event for the CFEC to host.
For the second year in a row, students in the CFEC club worked together to run an event to bring awareness to the cause. CFEC had a table set up in Founder’s hall lobby for three days where students could pledge to stop using the r-word in their everyday conversations. Students got the chance to sign a large sheet that will be now be hung on campus as a promise and reminder to stop using the r-word.
Melissa Matsanka, a member of CFEC, took time to help out with the event. “I chose to sit at the table for this event to help spread CFEC’s message of inclusivity and respect throughout the Cabrini community,” Matsanka said. “I think this event makes an impact on the Cabrini community because it gets people to stop and think about the words they use.”
Many students stopped by the table to sign their name over the three days the event was held. Emma Shields, junior, business major, stopped by the table to sign her name. She felt the event was a great way to localize the campaign. “It [the r-word] is disrespectful and rude,” Shields said. “There should be more events like this.”
“I want the sign to be filled to the brim, to the point where you can barely fit any more names,” Shields said, as she signed her name using a purple Sharpie marker. “That would be wonderful.”
Families and friends everywhere are pushing for an end to a word that makes their loved one feel bad about their disabilities instead of embracing their uniqueness.
“my younger brother has a speech disability and a physical disability and is bullied for it. Although he has never been called the r-word i think the campaign promotes inclusion and acceptance for all,” Lynn said.
The event has brought hope and happiness to many people with disabilities who have felt degraded when being referred to as mentally retarded. Schools and communities across the nation are now holding their own small events to spread the word and it is beginning to make a difference.
“My favorite part of this event is the fact that schools across the country participate in it,” Matsanka said. “My elementary school and high school have ‘Spread the Word to End the Word’ events each year and participating in it here at Cabrini connects me to those schools as well as so many more.”