Special Olympics says watch your mouth; help erase the R-word

We've all heard the saying, "sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me". Unfortunately, that's not always true.

Wednesday kicked off the start of the Special Olympics nationwide "Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign that focuses on encouraging people to stop using the R-word, "retarded". Special Olympics has backed this campaign since 2004 in hopes of reminding people how hurtful and disrespectful the R-word can be.

"We started changing the terminology that we had been using from 'mental retardation' to saying that people had intellectual disabilities," said Special Olympics Spokesperson Tela Mange.

Mange said that change was made because of a direct request from their athletes.

"What we've found and what our athletes have told us is that when they hear people using those words, it makes them feel less than human," said Mange. "Like they're not people."

The R-word, transformed into a common slang term by many and made popular by society and movies, isn't actually used all that often in reference to a person who has intellectual disabilities. Most often, individuals use the word as a synonym for "dumb", or "stupid".

"You'll see two people or two students talking to each other and one will turn around and call the other 'retard' and you know someone with intellectual disabilities is standing off five or six feet from them and they hear that, it's hurts their feelings," said Special Olympics West Region Development Director Freddie Taylor. "It's not good."

In honor of the campaign, special programs like "Meet in the Middle" help kids better understand those while intellectual disabilities and teach them how damaging the R-word can be.

"So school aged kids are able to be in the same population with our kids and they will do activities with them and they come out and coach. Maybe sit down and eat lunch with them, maybe go to the classroom and do activities with them in the classroom and those types of things," explained Taylor. "Just trying to get some inclusion. Since 2004, I have seen a huge change."

But, Taylor said, despite the increase in support for eliminating the R-word, there's always room for improvement.

"I would just ask everybody to take the pledge to stop using the R-word. They're people too," he said. "No one wants to be called an ugly word, just think about it before you say it."