GV students pledge to stand up for special needs students

GVL / Courtesy - Rachel Huck
Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign

GVL / Courtesy – Rachel Huck Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign

Rachel Huck

Words can act as a weapon. For some, a single derogatory word or phrase could cause a painful experience carried throughout their entire life.

In 2009, Notre Dame student Soeren Palumbo and Yale student Tim Shriver came together to form “Spread the Word to End the Word,” an ongoing effort to end the use of the R-word (retard or retarded). Today, Grand Valley State University student organizations are proud to be involved with the campaign.

“The main goal of ‘Spread the Word’ is to raise awareness of the fact that the R-word is cruel and demeaning toward individuals with disabilities,” said Sally Hoy, co-president of GVSU’s Students for Special Olympics Advocacy (SSOA). “We hope to stop the derogatory use of this word, and show that people with intellectual or physical disabilities are no different than anyone else. We pledge to respect those with disabilities by ending the use of the R-word.”

Over 200 organizations around the world participate in “Spread the Word to End the Word.” SSOA became involved with the campaign when the club began, and has been growing in membership ever since.

“No one should ever feel like they are less than another person, especially for something that is out of their control,” Hoy said.

Hoy said her time spent getting to know Special Olympics athletes has taught her about the hurt that the R-word inflicts on individuals with disabilities.

“People with intellectual disabilities are just like anyone else, they like to joke around and have conversations,” she said. “Don’t treat them like children or speak to them in a way that makes them look and feel inferior. Consider the feelings of those with disabilities, and even those with family members or friends with disabilities before you want to use the R-word.”

The annual day of awareness is held on the first Wednesday of every March, but respect and acceptance can be exercised every day.

“It is so important that individuals understand the implications of the R-word and related language and behavior,” said Katie Cullimore, coordinator of “Spread the Word to End the Word.” “Individuals with disabilities have just as much passion, enthusiasm, drive, abilities and skills as you and me, they just may look and do things a little different. Society needs to empower them and not break them down.”

Students for Special Olympics Advocacy will be hosting a “Spread the Word to End the Word” event on Thursday at 7 p.m. located in Loutit Lecture Hall Room 101. The event will feature local speakers, parents and athletes.

“I hope people come to this event with an open mind to learn and educate themselves on how language and actions can be hurtful to others,” Cullimore said. “I hope people can find new friendships and inspirations how SSOA does whenever we hang out with our friends. And most importantly, I hope they ‘Spread the Word to End the Word.'”

“We hope to open their eyes to the damage caused by the R-word and educate them on other ways to speak to and about those with disabilities,” Hoy said. “We want people to take the pledge to promote respect and to ‘Spread the Word to End the Word.’”

To learn more about the campaign and take the pledge, visit www.r-word.org.