The R-Word: Why I Choose to Spread the Word to End the Word Everyday

“The way you see people is the was you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.” –Goethe

March 7, 2018 is Spread the Word to End the Word Day. Spread the Word to End the Word is a national campaign with a mission to end the use of the word “retard(ed).” The movement was established in 2009 during the Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games. Over the past nine years, people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities all over the nation have passionately supported the campaign.

The R-word, "retard," is slang for the term mental retardation. While this was a term used by medical professionals for many years, today it is used in colloquial speech as an insult for someone or something stupid. When one uses the R-word to exclude or derogate, they are equating persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities with being unintelligent or wrong. The legal definition of hate speech is speech that offends, threatens or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability or other traits. Therefore, the use of the word R-word is hate speech. The purpose of this campaign is not to take away your right to freedom of speech, but rather to remind people that hate speech is hurtful and will not be tolerated. As much as it is one’s right to use the word “retard,” it is also the right of those who are on the receiving end of hate speech to object to that kind of disparagement. I choose, every day of my life, to be a voice against the use of the word “retard” because the R-word is not just hurtful to people with IDDs; it offends me too.

I spent my entire childhood participating in Special Olympics and Best Buddies, but it was not until high school that I discovered truly how impactful the R-word could be. In 9th grade, I met Hoang, and my life changed. Hoang was in the Special Education program at my high school, and we met at the very first Best Buddies event of the year. Hoang told me about how he swims, plays basketball and baseball and likes to dance and sing. There is literally nothing that this kid is not good at. After developing a close friendship, Hoang and I were matched in a one-on-one buddy pair for our junior and senior years, and our relationship blossomed. Over the course of high school, I had the opportunity to watch Hoang be included in every ‘typical’ activity. He played school sports, took classes, won Homecoming Prince and much more. When Hoang and I walked to class together, we had to leave a few minutes early because everyone stopped to say hi or give him a high-five. I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “this is how it should be everywhere and all of the time.” I saw how easy it was for a community to look past someone’s disability and, instead, focus on their abilities. I know it is possible for people to choose respect over insult.

Since high school our high school graduation, Hoang and I continue our friendship. He has been there for me during some of the most difficult years of my life. I can always count on him to brighten even the worst of days. He reminds me to never give up and to always be myself. Seven years of friendship, six years of being each others valentines, five Michael Jackson dance routines memorized, four 5Ks through D.C., three years of matching Halloween costumes, two school dances and one high school graduation walk together later, I can’t imagine my life would be without him. I know that he is a lifelong friend and truly a part of my family.

Cutting the R-word out of your vocabulary may not be easy, but it can be done. Think before you speak and remember that language affects attitudes and attitudes affect action. If you are interested in learning more about the Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign, visit their website and pledge to stop using the R-word at


Photo: 1, authors own