CHICAGO (AP) – Is it ever OK to use the word “retard” in casual conversation? Hundreds of high school and college students across the country joined together Tuesday to answer with an emphatic “No!“
From booths and tabletops in more than 700 school hallways and university student centers, volunteers asked people to “spread the word to end the word” and sign a petition at www.r-word.org promising to stop using “retard” in everyday speech.
The Special Olympics has been campaigning aggressively against the r-word since August, when the movie “Tropic Thunder” made headlines for its liberal comedic use of the word. President Barack Obama recently brought the issue of respecting kids with intellectual disabilities into the spotlight when, in an appearance on Jay Leno’s show, he said his poor bowling skills were “like the Special Olympics or something.”
Tuesday’s initiative bubbled up from a youth summit held in February at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Idaho. Kirsten Seckler, spokeswoman for Special Olympics, said the idea for the ”spread the word to end the word” campaign was wholly the work of kids – with disabilities and without – who were at the Games.
At a table in Northwestern University’s student center, Glen Hajost, a junior, and other students handed out buttons, T-shirts and posters to launch conversations about the word.
“It’s just important to get people to think in the first place before they use the r-word,” Hajost said. “You don’t really understand the impact that word has until you hear someone with intellectual disabilities explain how much it hurts them.”