The Harris Poll survey findings reveal that over the last nine years, teens more vocal in reinforcing respectful language while adults support inclusive behaviors, but are not as active in verbally promoting inclusion
Special Olympics Louisiana is joining Special Olympics International, Best Buddies International, and supporters from around the world today for the ninth annual Spread the Word to End the Word® Day to continue building awareness for society to stop and think about its use of the R-word and rally people to pledge respect toward all individuals, making the world a more accepting and inclusive place for all people. A lot of progress has been made over the last nine years in promoting inclusion for all and changing attitudes and perceptions about people with intellectual disabilities. Teens, specifically, are standing up for inclusion and respect for all at school and in their communities. Adults are aware of the R-word but are not as active in promoting inclusive behaviors. Although use of the R-word still exists and more acts of inclusion need to be encouraged, teens are having more connections with people with intellectual disabilities in school and in their neighborhoods, breaking down stereotypes and perceptions that exist for people with disabilities.
Several national studies from The Harris Poll conducted between 2008 and 2017 help provide a better picture of use of the R-word by adults and teens, inclusive behaviors and overall acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities.
Some of the key findings include:
- Reinforcing respectful language: The growth in more compassionate positive responses when hearing the R-word is slightly more pronounced when the person being picked on has intellectual disabilities. 70% of teens in 2017 say they told the person it was wrong to say the R-word, compared to 48% in 2008. Virtually no one said they didn’t care or joined in, a significant drop from 2008 numbers of 12% and 4%, respectively. When looking at adults standing up for respectful language, only 63% of adults told the person it was the wrong thing to say.
- Changing perceptions: Fewer teenagers are reporting they don’t know anyone with intellectual disabilities. 31% said they didn’t personally know anyone with ID in 2008, compared to 24% in 2016 and an ultimate low of 18% in 2017. The growth seems to be driven by higher connections with students in school, friends who don’t go to their school, and neighbors who have ID.
- Outdated attitudes of the ‘R-word’: Nearly three in ten teens (27%) and four in ten adults (38%) agree that there’s nothing wrong with using the word “retarded” to describe a thing or situation (as opposed to a person).
“Teens embracing inclusion and advocating against the demeaning and dehumanizing use of the r-word are spreading a new conversation of acceptance, friendship, and empowerment,” said Soeren Palumbo, co-founder of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign. “These agents of inclusion are re-writing the youth experience to no longer exclude people with intellectual disabilities but to include them as peers, teammates, and friends. The movement happening in our school hallways is gaining traction and pace to create a more inclusive society — and we will all be better for it.”
Through engagement with schools, organizations and communities, the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign urges young people around the world to take a stand in their own communities and help change the conversation by eliminating the use of the R-word and replacing it with ‘respect.’ The campaign highlights the harmful effects the word “retard(ed)” has on the millions of people with IDD, their families and friends. Use of the R-word, “retard” or “retarded,” is hurtful and painful and, whether intended or not, is a form of bullying. It is the same as any slur used against any minority group. Eliminating the use of this word is a step toward respect for all.
The Spread the Word to End the Word grassroots campaign was created in February 2009 by youth who participated in the Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit, held in conjunction with the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Idaho, USA. Led by Soeren Palumbo and Tim “Timbo” Shriver (son of Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver), the campaign evolved out of a united passion to promote the positive contributions people with IDD make in communities around the world. It was combined with a simple call to action to take the pledge and inspired thousands of K-12 schools and universities across the country to hold rallies enlisting young people to take the pledge. To date, over 650,000 people have taken the pledge online to end the use of the R-word and millions more have signed banners and petitions throughout the world. This year, Spread the Word to End the Word supporters from Special Olympics Louisiana have activated their communities and neighborhoods to engage around the day with pledge events.
The Spread the Word to End the Word campaign has continued to advocate on behalf of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to work to make our society more inclusive. Special Olympics offers Unified Sports and inclusive leadership and education activities in over 4,700 schools in 47 states and Washington, DC, across the country and many of those schools support Spread the Word to End the Word efforts through running pledge stations or holding student rallies to promote inclusion. Best Buddies International youth programs promote one-to-one friendship opportunities and leadership development in schools around the world, raising awareness and acceptance for people with IDD in their communities. With over 2,300 middle school, high school, and college chapters worldwide, the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign has become an integral part of the Best Buddies mission and showcases the organization’s commitment to creating inclusive opportunities for people with IDD on a global level.