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Editor’s Note: This post is adapted from a memo sent on March 2, 2016 to Dr. Ben Carson, Sec. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Mr. Donald Trump from Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman, and Loretta Claiborne, Vice Chair, Special Olympics International.

Politics today are reviving a culture of name-calling and bullying.  To some, it seems to be working.  Mock, taunt, and humiliate someone and you win.  The behaviors of the vicious and the cruel are being offered as models of leadership for the country.

There is, however, another way to lead. For the last eight years, athletes and partners in Special Olympics and Best Buddies International have challenged their friends and leaders to ask this question: “How can we lead the world to be more welcoming?”  The question isn’t theoretical to them.  For most of recorded history, leaders have failed to include or even humanize people with intellectual disabilities.  When the world bullies and excludes, our athletes and buddies know what happens: vicious and mean labels like “moron,” “idiot,” “imbecile,” and “retard” are translated into social cruelty, injustice, and routine suffering. Words matter.

Today is Spread the Word to End the Word® day. At a basic level, the athletes and buddies of our movement are asking people to stop using the word “retard” as a taunt or a joke.  It hurts and humiliates.  Please stop.

But at a larger level, what they ask today is deeper: become a leader of unity.  Don’t just change your language; change your heart.  Challenge yourself to be open to difference, unafraid of being welcoming to someone who is different, willing to take a chance on a person who just might be the teammate or a friend you never expected to find.  We’re all afraid of people we don’t understand or know.  But we can heal that fear.  Join a team. Volunteer. Be a friend.  Play unified and live unified, too.

Kathleen Shriver, a longtime Special Olympics unified partner, coined a new way of expressing the mission:  “difference is dope!”  These words are not just fun and refreshing.  They are words to live by.

They are also an invitation to Spread the Word to End the Word® “retard.”  So let’s start now.

Dr. Carson: Will you pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities?

Secretary Clinton: Will you pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities? 

Senator Cruz: Will you pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities? 

Governor Kasich: Will you pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities?

Senator Rubio: Will you pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities?

Senator Sanders: Will you pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities?

Mr. Trump: Will you pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities?

Our country deserves leaders who are role models of unity. Today is the day for our candidates to commit to being such leaders. If they do, they will be following great leaders like Eddie Barbanell, who has Down syndrome and who knows how important it is to unify a nation. “It’s insulting, it’s painful and it hurts people, get that word out! End the word! Bury it!”

The next President needs to follow Eddie in burying the word “retards” and in burying bullying, intolerance, and injustice.

We need a leader who will take a stand and support respect for people of all abilities. Will you join us and take the pledge today at r-word.org?

8 thoughts on “Spread the Word: Leaders Wanted!

  1. What is the best way to spread the word to end the word? How can people who are not involved in the special olympics help spread this message?

  2. I was in a meeting an an older women actually referred to her daughter as the “r” word. I have a brother with downs and was I guess just in shock I should of at least just got up and walked out . I have many times said things acted not in the nicest way but it is defending the defenseless. He is elderly and low functional .I would be in jail if I fought everyone that says that and the little kids that stare . Not their fault it’s the parents not teaching . I usually stare obviously right at the parents until they get it but sometimes my brothers back is to it so I can’t bother. The world is bad and Trump donated $250 from his foundation which is an insult like me giving a penny. Hope he doesn’t win . I’ve been looking for Trump and spec Olympics and don’t find anything and don’t want to know what he think about them. For the solution lets at least accept “downs” . It’s a step. If u don’t know or love someone special it unfortunately has become normal . Sad

  3. I have a 5 year old with Down Syndrome and every time I hear or see this word even from childhood I would cringe!!! I absolutely dislike this word!! Its our job to educate people on why this word is so wrong! I associate it with the “N” word because that’s how strongly I dislike this word!

  4. I have worked as a special education para for almost 20 years and have loved every single minute of working with these beautiful, articulate,sweet and oh so innocent children and young adults!! I am honored to have been part of their growth and their lives!! Thank you so much for letting me into your lives!! I have just retired this year and already miss them terribly!!

  5. Well said. Thank you for addressing this issue with our candidates in such an eloquent, respectful manner. Never before have I been so ashamed of our political candidates. They could learn a lot from our athletes.

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