National group works to eliminate use of the 'r-word'

National group works to eliminate use of the 'r-word'

(Spread the Word to End the Word)

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SALT LAKE CITY — A national organization is working to rid people of the use of what they refer to as the “r-word.”

The term “mentally retarded” grew in popularity as a medical diagnosis around the turn of the 20th century. It was used by mental health professionals to describe a myriad of developmental and intellectual delays.

During the 1960s, the term “retarded” began to take on a derogatory connotation, working its way into slang vocabulary around the United States, according to .

The national organization Spread the Word to End the Word works to eliminate using the word “retarded” in pejorative situations. Spread the Word representative Christy White said the group started small, but has grown over the years.

“(It) was started by two college students, Soeren Palumbo and Timbo Shriver, as a result of their interest in changing the way we speak and act towards people with disabilities,” White said.

March 5 is Spread the Word’s national awareness day. Events around the county were scheduled to help educate the public about the damage using the word “retarded” in casual slang can have. White said the events have brought support for their cause in many ways.

“The beginning of the work was a simple call to action; getting people to take the pledge to stop saying the word,” White said. “The goal of this year’s campaign was to obtain 50,000 more pledges — and this afternoon we were already at 26K. We are definitely on the way!”

White said she hopes by shedding light on this issue, the use of the r-word will diminish in use and the public will become more sensitive to those with disabilities.

We aren't the language police, but we are trying to educate and encourage for passion for language,

–Christy White

“The response from our movement has been exactly what we hoped for — people see the significance of what we are trying to do and want to spread the word to end the r-word,” White said.

She said she understands that the word has become so commonplace many people may not even think of it as derogatory anymore. That’s what Spread the Word is trying to accomplish, she said, in bringing awareness to what the term actually implies.

“We aren’t the language police, but we are trying to educate and encourage for passion for language,” White said. “Bottom line is, the r-word is harmful and derogatory and should be eliminated.”

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Robynn Garfield


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