Mar 212010
Authors: James Frederick

On March 3, nearly 2,000 CSU students, staff and faculty signed the pledge to end the use of the word “retard(ed)” as a part of the “Spread the Word to End the Word” event. As successful as the event was, in the ensuing days, we have learned that this cause has not been taken as seriously as it should have and in general has gone unnoticed.

As one of the members who was directly involved in the planning and coordination of the event, I would like to take the time to more fully explain the goal of “Spread the Word to End the Word” and address any misunderstanding.

“Spread the Word to End the Word” was started two years ago by Notre Dame University student Soeren Palumbo and Yale University student Tim Shriver. They enlisted the support of Special Olympics and Best Buddies International to sponsor this nationwide event each year.

For the last two years, thousands have volunteered around the country at hundreds of college campuses, high schools and various other community centers to educate the public on the harmful effects that the use of the word “retard(ed)” has on people with developmental disabilities and also to end all forms of prejudice against them.

Since March 3, members of Special Needs Swim, TGIF, Respite Care Inc. of Fort Collins and the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity who have helped volunteer with the event have noticed that a lot of people on campus do not consider the need to “End the Word” an issue. We would like to challenge those of you who feel this way to consider the following:

First, the pledge that many of you signed was not a petition to change a law or coerce Merriam-Webster to omit the word. The event is not about censorship or political correctness; we are not intending to impede upon the First Amendment. It’s about getting the CSU community to consider what that word means, not to you but to people with disabilities and those who support them.

We all know the multiple uses of the word and more often than not it is used in a joking manner. We genuinely believe that most don’t use the word to be hateful toward people with disabilities. The problem in today’s language is that even if it is used as a joke, the core of the word still alludes back to its medical reference to someone with a mental disability. It isn’t about someone’s intention in using the word, but their ignorance of what the word means.

Calling someone a “retard” does the same thing as slurs against a minority group. They all subtly reinforce historical stereotypes that we have about that population, and it says we think this population has lower value than a “normal” person. It says that they are incapable of things of which we as “normal” people are capable.

On top of understanding the multiple meanings of the word, we also understand the evolution of the English language. As many have said to us, another word will replace the r-word, and we will fight a never-ending battle.

They’re probably right about a new word but that does not mean that our efforts to encourage people to think more about the direct implications associated with the word are futile. A person with a disability wants to be seen and acknowledged as a person first.

Today, this is referred to as people-first language where you identify the person before their disability. “Spread the Word” was about encouraging people to think about how we perceive and treat people with disabilities.

The actor Eddie Barbanell, who has Down Syndrome (seen in the 2005 film, “The Ringer,” and featured in an episode Rob Dyrdek’s “Fantasy Factory”), explains how to treat someone with a disability: “Talk to them, be their friend, love them, hug them. Do anything to raise the spirits of people with different abilities. It’s like God took something away from them in one area and made them extraordinary in another area.”

Thank you to all who support us in this cause. “Spread the Word to End the Word” isn’t just about a word; it is a campaign about empathy, acceptance, respect and humanity for all people.

James Fredrick is a senior economics major. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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