Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Frequently Asked Questions about the R-Word

Q: What is Spread the Word to End the Word?
A: Spread the Word to End the Word is an ongoing effort to raise the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the word “retard(ed)” and encourage people to pledge to stop using the R-word. The campaign is intended to engage school organizations and communities to rally and pledge their support in helping to build communities of inclusion and acceptance for all people.

Q: When is Spread the Word to End the Word?
A: Spread the Word to End the Word holds its' annual day of awareness on the first Wednesday of every March. However, people everywhere can help spread the word throughout their communities and schools year-round through pledge drives, youth rallies and online activation.

Q: Who supports the Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign?
A: Spread the Word to End the Word is a youth-driven movement supported by Special Olympics and Best Buddies International.

Q: How and when was Spread the Word to End the Word created?
A: Spread the Word to End the Word was created by youth with and without intellectual disabilities who participated in the Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games. The motivation for the campaign was driven by a united passion to promote the positive contributions people with intellectual disabilities make to communities around the world combined with a simple call to action – a pledge to stop using a word – that also symbolizes positive attitude change and a commitment to make the world a more accepting place for all people. The trademarked "Spread the Word To End the Word" annual day of awareness was created by Soeren Palumbo (Notre Dame class of 2011) and Tim Shriver (Yale class of 2011) who are recognized as co-founders of the campaign.

Q: Why is the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign important?
A: Respectful and inclusive language is essential to the movement for the dignity and humanity of people with intellectual disabilities. However, much of society does not recognize the hurtful, dehumanizing and exclusive effects of the word “retard(ed).” It is time to address the minority slur “retard(ed)” and raise the consciousness of society to its hurtful effects.

Q: How do I take the R-word pledge?
A: Click "Pledge and Be Heard" above!

Q: Where can I find more materials to host an R-word event in my area?
A: You can download materials on our resources page and purchase merchandise and event materials in the Official R-word Store!

Q: Where do I purchase R-word t-shirts and other merchandise?
A: You can find all R-word merchandise, including t-shirts, baseball caps, bracelets, stickers and more, at the Official R-Word Store.

Q: What other ways can I get involved with Spread the Word to End the Word?
A: Our social media channels are a great way to stay involved with the R-word campaign. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Questions about Language

Q: Are you looking to ban the word completely or do you think it can still be used in certain contexts?
A: This effort is intended to draw attention to the fact that a large population of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are hurt and offended by the use of the R-word. Our goal is to educate and to raise awareness that the R-word it isn’t funny, it isn’t a joke, but it is harmful to many people.

Q: So you’re not trying to remove it from the dictionary, or tell academics they can’t use it when it’s used properly?
A: We want people to understand that it is hurtful when it is used as a derogatory term, and that’s really how it is used the majority of the time. You don’t have to use the R-word. If there’s a better way to say what you’re trying to say, then do that.

Q: But even if we don’t use the term “retarded,” won’t it just become about a different word? History has shown that if we stop using one word, we just replace it with another.
A: The R-word has become a popular punch line for jokes and a frequent slang in pop culture, and it has gone too far. This is about more than just eliminating a word, this is about a revolution of our attitudes toward a population that has been stigmatized throughout history. They deserve respect, and removing the R-word from our everyday speech is one step we can take toward showing them that respect.

Q: In so many instances though, this is not a word that is intended as a derogatory comment, but just as a generic putdown. Why is it bad if it’s not directed toward people with disabilities?
A: This word has been associated with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities since its inception. Over 43 U.S. states have passed or introduced legislation to remove "mental retardation" from laws and replace it with more respectful people first language. In 2010, the federal government enacted "Rosa's Law" which replaces "mental retardation" with people first language. In the medical community "mental retardation" remains in a majority of official publications, but it is widely recognized as an outdated term and most medical professionals choose to use more respectful language. It is clearly time to move on as a society and widely adopt people first language.

Q: The main problem with this is that initiatives and campaigns like this generally end up with official government censorship, and that’s the wrong place to head.
A: We are not talking about or even asking the government to consider censorship. What we are trying to do is raise awareness that this word is offensive so that people think before they speak and realize that their words have power. This campaign is encouraging people to have a conversation about the use of this word so they realize who is listening when they use the R-word and who they may be hurting. You have the right to free speech. We have the right to petition you to choose your language more carefully.

Q: What term should be used in place of mental retardation?
A: “Intellectual disability” is a widely accepted synonym for “mental retardation.” For many, the term “mental retardation” evokes the word “retard” and brings up painful memories of rejection and ridicule. The important thing to remember when considering language is that we are all people first. If Joe slips and breaks his foot, he is not a broken footed person. He is Joe with a broken foot. The person should ALWAYS come before the condition.