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Special Olympics and Best Buddies International Celebrate 9th Annual Spread the Word to End the Word® Day on 1 March

Survey findings from The Harris Poll reveal that over the last nine years, teens are more vocal in reinforcing respectful language while adults support inclusive behaviors but are not as active in verbally promoting inclusion.

Studies Show Positive Changes

Special Olympics, Best Buddies International, and supporters from around the world will unite today on 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.

“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.”

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).

Young People Taking a Stand For Respect

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 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 -- including the B. Thomas Golisano Foundation and hundreds of schools around the nation -- have activated their communities and neighborhoods to engage around the day with pledge events.

What started as one single action of taking the pledge has evolved into communities across the world challenging others to talk, think and write with respect.   A letter-writing campaign and social media blitz led by the Special Olympics Youth Activation Summit drew more attention to the campaign - as well as an apology - on American television host and political commentator Bill O'Reilly's show after the R-word was used. Special Olympics athlete John Franklin Stephens led the charge via a blog post that went viral when pundit Ann Coulter lashed out with the word.  Stephens received support from over 3 million people through social media in just a matter of days.  Supporters from across the country were urging Stephens to 'run for President!'

"In the nine years since the launch of Spread the Word to End the Word, hundreds of thousands of young people with and without intellectual disabilities have taken up leadership of this movement for inclusion," said Timbo Shriver, co-founder of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign.  "We have known for years that they have had a profound impact locally - on their schools, their teams, their families and their communities all across the nation and the world. Now, with these new poll results in hand, we are beginning to see the way young leaders are having a systemic cultural impact, fundamentally reshaping the way we see, include, and connect with each other beyond the false boundaries of disability or difference."

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.  

Get Involved

Engage with us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/EndtheWord or Twitter at twitter.com/EndtheWord! Tweet this pledge today:

I pledge #Respect thru my words and actions. Will you? Pledge now to change the game for people with ID at r-word.org.


Christy Weir
Special Olympics
+1 (202) 738-8511

Nicole Maddox
Best Buddies International
(305) 374-2233 xt. 343

About Special Olympics

Special Olympics is a global movement that unleashes the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sports, every day around the world. We empower people with intellectual disabilities to become accepted and valued members of their communities, which leads to a more respectful and inclusive society for all.  Using sports as the catalyst and programming around health and education, Special Olympics is fighting inactivity, injustice and intolerance.  Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown to more than 5.3 million athletes and Unified partners in 169 countries.  With the support of more than 1 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and over 108,000 games and competitions throughout the year. Special Olympics is supported by individuals, foundations and partners, including the Christmas Records Trust, the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics, The Coca-Cola Company, The Walt Disney Company and ESPN, Microsoft, Lions Clubs International, Toys"R"Us, Mattel, P&G, Bank of America, Essilor Vision Foundation, the B. Thomas Golisano Foundation, Finish Line and Safilo Group.  Visit Special Olympics at www.specialolympics.org. Engage with us on: Twitter @specialolympics, fb.com/specialolympics, youtube.com/specialolympicshq, instagram.com/specialolympics and specialolympicsblog.wordpress.com.

About Best Buddies International

Best Buddies® is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver, Best Buddies is a vibrant organization that has grown from one original chapter to more than 2,300 middle school, high school, and college chapters worldwide. Today, Best Buddies' eight formal programs - Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens, e-Buddies®, Jobs, Ambassadors, and Promoters - engage participants in each of the 50 states and in over 50 countries, positively impacting the lives of more than 1.1 million people with and without disabilities around the world. In many cases, as a result of their involvement with Best Buddies, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities secure rewarding jobs, live on their own, become inspirational leaders, and make lifelong friendships. For more information, please visit  www.bestbuddies.org

About The Harris Poll

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly.

About the R-Word Surveys by Harris Poll

The surveys were conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll between 2008 and 2017. The 2008 survey was conducted Sept. 17 - 26, 2008 among 696 teens ages 13-18 who reside in the U.S. The 2016 survey was conducted July 14 - 27, 2016 among 510 teens (ages 13-17) and 2,563 adults (ages 18+) who reside in the U.S. The 2017 survey was conducted Jan. 24 - Feb. 3, 2017 among 512 teens (ages 13-17) and 2,319 adults (ages 18+) who reside in the U.S.