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Campaign to ‘end the R-Word’ collects pledges

Tori Roeck | Thursday, March 3, 2011

Since senior Soeren Palumbo founded “Spread the Word to End the Word,” an international campaign to end the use of the word “retard,” in 2009, he said the campaign has collected more than 170,000 Internet pledges and 10 million verbal and handwritten pledges.

Notre Dame students contributed over 2,600 pledges last year alone, Palumbo said.

Wednesday marked the third annual “End the R-Word Day,” which more than 250 universities and 1,000 high schools recognized around the world. Volunteers collected pledges to end the R-word on both the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s campuses throughout the day.

Palumbo began the campaign with Yale senior Tim Shriver and it is co-sponsored by Special Olympics and Best Buddies.

“We’re not asking for money. We’re not asking for someone to commit volunteering time,” Palumbo said. “All we’re doing is asking someone to make that slight modification in their language.”

In addition to limiting the use of the R-word, the campaign seeks to raise awareness about the treatment of those with intellectual disabilities, Palumbo said.

“We live in a community that excludes people with intellectual disabilities,” Palumbo said. “Hopefully … just starting to think about these issues will lead to someone being more accepting of people with intellectual disabilities, starting to value the contributions that people with intellectual disabilities give to society.”

Palumbo said he started “Spread the Word to End the Word” because his sister has an intellectual disability.

“I grew up with a very first-hand experience with the stigma and discrimination that goes along with having an intellectual disability in the United States and the role that the R-word plays in that,” Palumbo said.

Palumbo said he and Shriver developed the idea for “Spread the Word to End the Word” while working for Special Olympics in 2009. They announced the event at a youth rally in February 2009 and established March 31, 2009, as the first “End the R-Word Day,” Palumbo said.

In the six weeks between its announcement and its inception, “Spread the Word to End the Word” expanded from five participating universities to 40 solely by word of mouth, Palumbo said.

In its third year, “Spread the Word to End the Word” is celebrated at schools “in every continent except for Antarctica,” Palumbo said.

Palumbo said “End the R-Word Day” is one part of a larger campus campaign to raise awareness of disability issues.

“We really want to represent this event as one of many throughout the semester engaging in issues of disability,” Palumbo said. “We want to present the opportunity for this to be the gateway into more involvement.”

Palumbo said he hopes “Spread the Word to End the Word” would also help end bullying and discrimination.

“This isn’t just a word,” Palumbo said. “It’s not just one linguistic vessel, one combination of letters. It’s more attitudes. It’s more consistent abuse and harassment of young people with intellectual disabilities. We’re trying to focus it towards that and allow the campaign, not to forget the one word, but to transcend the one word and grow beyond that.”