Positive Changes

Nine Years of Spreading the Word

In the last few years, we've seen positive changes in the way people use the R-word. Seven years ago this week, we launched the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign to build awareness for society to stop and think about its use of the R-word.

Think About The Word

Most people don’t think of this word as hate speech, but that’s exactly what it feels like to millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and friends. What started as a youth-led grassroots effort in 2009 by a small group of students with one simple call to action, has evolved to communities across the world not only taking the pledge, but challenging others to talk, think and write with respect. We’ve had noticeable and sustainable impact. 

A New Website to Protest the R-word

In 2008, Special Olympics launched the www.r-word.org website to combat the inappropriate use of the R-word in common usage and helped lead protests against media use of the word in response to the film ‘Tropic Thunder.' In 2009, the youth-led "Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign launched with rallies in K-12 schools and universities around the country, enlisting young people to combat use of the word and collecting more than 100,000 signatures to pledge inclusion and respect towards all people.

Leading the Way

Thousands of college campuses, high schools, middle schools and elementary schools have launched campaigns in their communities. More than 650,000 people have now taken the pledge to end the use of the R-word, both online and on petitions and posters. When pundit Ann Coulter lashed out with the word, Special Olympics athlete John Franklin Stephens led the charge and received support from over 3 million people through social media in just a few days. A letter-writing campaign and social media blitz from the Special Olympics Youth Activation Summit drew a brief apology from talk show host Bill O’Reilly after a guest used the word on his show. The F/X network now includes the R-word as one of three words that are not allowed to be broadcast. MTV has also embraced the campaign by bleeping out the R-word just like any other curse word or slur in shows like “The Real World” and “Teen Mom.” 

Federal and State Law Changes

A Maryland woman with an intellectual disability was the inspiration for Rosa's Law, which former President Obama signed in 2010. The bill, championed by former Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wy.), garnered unanimous support in passing both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Rosa’s Law was commemorated in a White House ceremonywith an 11-member delegation of Special Olympics athletes, leaders and self-advocates present to celebrate the milestone. Starting that year, federal agencies dropped the terms "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" in federal health, education and labor laws and replaced them with "intellectual disability" -- and since then, almost every state has passed similar legislation. All of these actions are steps in the right direction.

Join Us to End the Word

We are spreading the word on your favorite sites. Join us!

Act Now!

Pledge your support to eliminate the demeaning use of the r-word.


We've Pledged!

  • I’m generally not easily offended and I believe in free speech, but with that said there are some rules that need to govern common human decency and how we speak about ch...


    Ilyce Randell

    Buffalo Grove , Illinois

  • I have always taught my children to NEVER use the R word. As it is extremely hurtful and hateful. Years later, my Dad married the most beautiful woman who has three child...



    Spring Hill, Florida

  • I pledge so that my son with Down Syndrome and my other son with Autism may grow up in world free of the R-word and filled with individuals who are accepting of ALL peopl...


    Matt Christenson

    Arden Hills, Minnesota

  • Each human is amazing and deserves respect for all types of differences.

    Avery Kozloski

    Monson , Massachusetts

  • I pledge to stand up for those who can't do so for themselves.

    Cheyenne March

    West Chester, Pennsylvania

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