Campaign to end use of the R-word spreading

Bonnie Belec
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An initiative trying to stop the use of the word “retarded” from the English language is gaining momentum in this province.

Kelly White, executive director for the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities Newfoundland and Labrador, talks about eliminating the use of the "R" word through the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign held internationally on the first Wednesday of March. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

In 2008, Special Olympics launched the website to combat the inappropriate use of the R-word and to help lead protests against media use of the word in response to the film “Tropic Thunder,” released the same year.

According to, the comedy, starring Ben Stiller, was the subject of an America-wide Rally for Respect, organized by a coalition of disability groups.  

“The complaint was that the word ‘retard,’ used 17 times in the film to denote a person with learning difficulties, was unacceptable. Hate speech of this kind was accused of inspiring discrimination, abuse, negative stereotypes, disenfranchisement and violence,” says the website.

As a result, in 2009 a group of American youth launched the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign and it’s been spreading internationally year after year.

This appears to be the first year it is drawing attention from Newfoundland groups.

Kelly White, executive director of Coalition of Persons with Disabilities Newfoundland and Labrador (COD-NL), says the word is nothing short of offensive to people with intellectual disabilities.

She said COD-NL , an advocacy organization concerned with all people with disabilities, promoting their rights and raising public awareness of their needs, hasn’t been involved in the campaign before but is hoping to start now.

Held the first Wednesday in March, this year’s Spread the Word Day is tomorrow.

White said by talking to schools, the media and advocacy groups, about what the day means, it can help encourage people to stop using the R word.

She referred to a public service announcement in a youtube video — — in which people of different races say it’s not acceptable to be the subject of minority slurs and the R-word is one of them.

She said it’s an excellent way to reach the masses.

“When people with intellectual disabilities are called that word, they feel hurt, ashamed and rejected,” said White.

“The coalition certainly believes in inclusion, and everybody is entitled to be treated with respect and dignity, and it’s time to stop using the R-word,” she said.

Darrin Reid, program director of Special Olympics Newfoundland and Labrador, will be a guest speaker at Memorial University tomorrow during a Spread the Word to End the Word gathering.

He says education and awareness is an extension of what Special Olympics does, and this is the first time the provincial branch has been involved in the campaign.

“It’s the first time I heard of it, to be quite honest, but it certainly is important, and our organization is always trying to spread the word,” said Reid.

Organizations: Special Olympics Newfoundland and Labrador, Coalition of Persons

Geographic location: America, Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Kay
    March 05, 2014 - 02:13

    Disappointed that people are defending the use of the word, but understanding in that they're obviously not educated in terms of the origin of the word. If you're still using it, you should look into things a little further. I took a university course in special needs physical activity and inclusion at MUN which a professor who was passionate about this cause. She educated my class about how inappropriate it was to use this word EVER. Would you call your white friend the "n word" and defend it because it isn't used in a derogatory context? If so, I'm disappointed. If not, then you should rethink your use of the "r word" as well.

    • paul
      March 07, 2014 - 12:06

      I think the point that some are making , is this' how do remove a word from the lexicon?'...its obvious that this word, like many others , are used inappropriately and can be hurtful. but its also apparent if you were to look, that the use of this word is changing as I said in my post. You mention the is clearly a word to be careful with but there are uses of this word considered appropriate...just watch a few rap videos...many black people in pop culture, use it freely with each other. like many words, its more about how its used , than the fact it exists.

  • Vickie
    March 04, 2014 - 20:22

    It's about time.

  • Mack Hall, HSG
    March 04, 2014 - 19:41

    The sentiment is good and just, but demonizing any word is a way also of deifying it. Anyone should be free not to engage in further conversation with someone who employs vulgarities, but one can only fear the degradation of freedom if language is regulated.

  • david
    March 04, 2014 - 17:36

    For a place where drinking & driving remains a popular hobby, the "word" isn't the problem....

  • paul
    March 04, 2014 - 13:51

    I fully understand their concerns with the 'R' word in reference to people with intellectual disability...but there is a disconnect with how it is used these days, as I see use it exactly the same way as their parents, as in me and my generation, used words like 'crazy' or 'silly' , 'rediculous' etc, and in my experience, really do not associate it with people who have learning or intellectual impairments...I know many kids who use it on each other but at the same time it does not even enter their minds as a word to describe people with disabilty...maybe in time when movies are written by this generation, the same will happen there too...

  • Jim Fossa
    March 04, 2014 - 13:10

    So what happens when disabled has a negative connotation? Are we just going to continually change what we use to describe people? Sorry, but this is an utter waste of time.

  • David Wilson
    March 04, 2014 - 13:10

    I fully agree. Why stop there! The S-word, Stupid, is just a hurtfull to people with intellectual disabilities.

    • Kay
      March 05, 2014 - 02:28

      This isn't a legitimate argument. The word "stupid" doesn't single out any minority. The r word is a word that was used to describe persons with intellectual disabilities that is now used to as a synonym for words like "crazy" and "ridiculous". That is offensive (without question). People who use this word are the same people who are using the phrase "that's gay", to say that something is displeasing. Again, equating a word that had a non-offensive start with offensive words. This is why these terms become problematic.