Spread the Word to End the Word began as the brain child of two rising college sophomores interning at Special Olympics two years ago with the goal of ending the derogatory and pejorative use of the words “retard” and “retarded.” Since then the campaign has spread to thousands of schools, universities, and communities across the country and the world inciting discussion and debate over the use of the “r-word.” We’ve experienced overwhelming support, evidenced by nearly 150,000 pledges on www.r-word.org, as well as heated opposition. Although we still continue to fight to make our voices heard and our message understood, we’ve learned, mostly through our mistakes, a huge amount about shaping that message, choosing the right format for it, and finding the best ways to communicate with the greater public.
First and foremost, we’ve found since the beginning of the campaign that the best voice for the issue is that of young people. They are more effective in utilizing new forms of communication and other young people are far more likely to listen to someone their own age, especially with regards to issues of speech, inclusion, and tolerance. No wants to be lectured by adults. Yet, this clip demonstrates that they can also be incredibly effective beyond other youth:
This video was produced and created by high school students in a single night and induced a public apology from Bill O’Reilly!
Next, we discovered, through a critical messaging mistake, that any suggestion of a First Amendment violation will immediately end a substantive discussion on language. Originally we demanded that the word be “banned.” We, of course, did not call for any official banning but the suggestion alone was enough to stifle our voice. So we quickly shifted to calling for people to “end” the word, suggesting a personal choice rather than any official act. The First Amendment issue still arises occasionally but it no longer poses a significant threat to our message.
Finally, we always provide action items so that people not only hear our message but feel like they can join in. On our website as well as at all our awareness events, individuals are asked to pledge to end their own use of the word and to spread the idea to others. Active participants are far more responsive and effective carriers of the message than passive listeners.
For more information on the campaign as well as our international day of awareness this spring, 3.02.11, please visit www.r-word.org.