On Wednesday, March 4, Special Olympics Delaware (SODE), through its Project UNIFY program and with the support of Best Buddies Delaware, united with students in schools across the state in a global movement of mutual respect and human dignity called Spread the Word to End the Word. The goal of the movement is to ask people to stop and think about their hurtful and disparaging use of all forms of the word “retard,” and take a pledge to respect everyone.
Spread the Word to End the Word, in its seventh year, is a campaign created by youth to raise awareness about the negative impact of the slang word “retard(ed)”, or the R-word, and encourage people to stop and think about its derogatory uses in casual conversation. Students in schools across the country are leading the way to challenge people to think before they speak. The motivation for the campaign is driven by the belief that language influences attitudes and that positive attitude change can make the world a more accepting place for people with intellectual disabilities.
“What started out as a banner-signing campaign to stop using the R-word has now turned into an annual event involving various activities promoting general respect for everyone,” stated Kylie Melvin, Director of Youth Initiatives. “Schools at all levels have experienced how the Spread the Word event has helped change the perception of people with disabilities, and not just by having students not using the word. What we’ve seen is whole school engagement, beyond that one day, between students with and without intellectual disabilities.”
In March, students at Benjamin Banneker Elementary in Milford joined youth in all 50 states as they coordinated simultaneous pledge drives, campaigns and educational activities through Spread the Word to End the Word, engaging schools, communities and advocates to encourage everyone to pledge to stop the use of the R-word. Nearly 80 Delaware preschool, elementary, middle and high schools, along with the University of Delaware and the DelawareTech Owens and Terry campuses, participated in the campaign to Spread the Word to End the Word.
SODE Advisor Laurie Moorman, a teacher at Benjamin Banneker Elementary School in Milford, has been involved with the program for several years. Her daughters Emma is in her fifth year and her younger daughter Kylie in her first year of the SODE school program. “Individuals with disabilities are being more and more integrated in our classrooms, schools and community,” said Moorman. “Our children need to learn at a young age to accept one another. They need to know it is an expectation of everyone to treat others with respect, disability or not.”
Moorman states that at the Elementary level, teachers focus more on the “respect” word, versus not using the “R” word. “If we emphasize the positive, hopefully we are keeping the “R” word out of their vocabulary,” said Moorman. “I think being conscience of this helps our families of students with disabilities feel connected and a part of our community, not an isolated group.”
As Banneker students encouraged their peers, families and community to take a pledge to End The Word, students raised money for Special Olympics Delaware by selling glow bracelets during Pledge Respect Week. Selling over 2,300 bracelets, a total of $584.00 was raised which will help SODE continue their mission to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for 3,700 children and adults with intellectual disabilities. These programs give participants continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.