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Spread the Word: Inclusion

We founded Spread the Word to End the Word in 2009 with an audacious belief, a plain observation, an urgent goal, and an ambitious plan.
Soeren Polumbo and Tim Shriver talking on stage at the 2009 Special Olympics World Games

We audaciously believed that the world would be better if all people were valued, respected, embraced, included. Included in the games we play and the friends we make. Included in our schools, workplaces, and communities.

But we plainly observed that, despite the efforts of many, around the world remain left out, excluded, and isolated. One of these groups is people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, a group made of more than 200 million people, representing every country, belief system, sexual orientation, gender expression, race, and ethnicity. Globally, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities continue to be excluded and isolated from their non-disabled peers in schools, workplaces, and communities. Having grown up with a sibling with an intellectual disability – my sister, Olivia – I know this first-hand.

So we set for ourselves an urgent goal to disrupt this cycle of isolation and exclusion with grassroots action for inclusion in schools, workplaces, and communities around the world. And to reach it, we created an ambitious plan to tackle one part of this exclusion, the word “retard(ed)” by finding and empowering local champions to call for change in their community, whether that be on a university campus, in a school cafeteria, or a workplace.

Students lay in a circle around a Spread the Word to End the Word pledge banner from 2012.

Over the past 10 years, we’ve focused on this particularly hurtful and divisive expression of exclusion. Focusing on ending the R-word provided a concrete example of exclusion and a straightforward call to action. Millions of people across thousands of schools across dozens of countries have taken the pledge. And they have asked a simple question: what next? After I’ve made a commitment to use language that communicates respect and inclusion, what do I do now?

We had the same question, it turns out. What does come next, we wondered. So we asked the people we trust most on this subject: you, the leaders of Spread the Word. We asked you about what continued to excite you about the campaign and what more it could do in its next 10 years. Thousands of you answered – youth leaders, self-advocates, family members, and more. You shared that the campaign should remain committed to calling others to action through our pledge. You also shared that the exciting opportunities were in bringing more people into the campaign and embracing a broader call to action for inclusion, not just ending the R-word.

Building on the success, impact, passion, and energy of our campaign’s first 10 years – and incorporating your vision for its future – I am excited to share today its new look: Spread the Word. More than ever, our opportunity is to not only tear down the discrimination and stigma of the past, but also to build the inclusive future we all envision. Expanding our focus beyond the R-word will issue a welcomed challenge to all of us to create the connections we see missing and to replace the fear of difference we see around us with an embrace of inclusion. Transcending a single word will open us to the many acts of inclusion that go unspoken and allow us to grow our campaign to all languages in all parts of the world. The stigma and discrimination faced by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is not limited to a single language or a single word – going forward, neither will our campaign for inclusion.

Starting today, the Spread the Word campaign will call on everyone to make their pledge to take action for inclusion in their school, community, or workplace. These actions will be as unique as those making the pledge – in some places, spreading inclusion can mean sitting next to someone new at lunch or reaching out to a colleague who has been excluded. In other places, we may need to look harder for those that exclusion has made invisible and actively welcome them as a friend, a teammate, or a co-worker. Spread the Word will provide the platform to make these pledges and the resources to empower local champions to make inclusion a reality in their school, workplace, and community.

In our increasingly connected world, it is critical that we continue to share our stories of impact, action, and inclusion. The shared story of a changed community can inspire change on the other side of the world. Never before has the call to spread the word carried more potential; so share your stories, your ideas for inclusion, and your reason for pledging. Whether you’re a sibling like me or a friend, a teacher, a co-worker, a self-advocate, a teammate, or other champion for inclusion, take the pledge and share with us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

Welcome to the next stage of Spread the Word. Your dedication and vision brought us this far. Your leadership and action will bring us to our ultimate goal: inclusion for all.