An initiative trying to stop the use of the word “retarded” from the English language is gaining momentum in this province.
Kelly White, executive director for the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities Newfoundland and Labrador, talks about eliminating the use of the "R" word through the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign held internationally on the first Wednesday of March. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
In 2008, Special Olympics launched the website www.r-word.org to combat the inappropriate use of the R-word and to help lead protests against media use of the word in response to the film “Tropic Thunder,” released the same year.
According to theguardian.com, the comedy, starring Ben Stiller, was the subject of an America-wide Rally for Respect, organized by a coalition of disability groups.
“The complaint was that the word ‘retard,’ used 17 times in the film to denote a person with learning difficulties, was unacceptable. Hate speech of this kind was accused of inspiring discrimination, abuse, negative stereotypes, disenfranchisement and violence,” says the website.
As a result, in 2009 a group of American youth launched the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign and it’s been spreading internationally year after year.
This appears to be the first year it is drawing attention from Newfoundland groups.
Kelly White, executive director of Coalition of Persons with Disabilities Newfoundland and Labrador (COD-NL), says the word is nothing short of offensive to people with intellectual disabilities.
She said COD-NL , an advocacy organization concerned with all people with disabilities, promoting their rights and raising public awareness of their needs, hasn’t been involved in the campaign before but is hoping to start now.
Held the first Wednesday in March, this year’s Spread the Word Day is tomorrow.
White said by talking to schools, the media and advocacy groups, about what the day means, it can help encourage people to stop using the R word.
She referred to a public service announcement in a youtube video — www.youtube.com/watch?v=T549VoLca_Q — in which people of different races say it’s not acceptable to be the subject of minority slurs and the R-word is one of them.
She said it’s an excellent way to reach the masses.
“When people with intellectual disabilities are called that word, they feel hurt, ashamed and rejected,” said White.
“The coalition certainly believes in inclusion, and everybody is entitled to be treated with respect and dignity, and it’s time to stop using the R-word,” she said.
Darrin Reid, program director of Special Olympics Newfoundland and Labrador, will be a guest speaker at Memorial University tomorrow during a Spread the Word to End the Word gathering.
He says education and awareness is an extension of what Special Olympics does, and this is the first time the provincial branch has been involved in the campaign.
“It’s the first time I heard of it, to be quite honest, but it certainly is important, and our organization is always trying to spread the word,” said Reid.