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Special Olympics Kicks Off ‘Spread the Word’ Campaign

April 1 2009 | by

The Special Olympics on Tuesday launched its “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign to rid the world of the word “retard,” which the organization says is an outdated reference to people with mental and intellectual disabilities and is “just as cruel and offensive as any other slur.”

The campaign kicked off with more than 700 events and activities happening throughout the United States – and around the world. Across the country, people signed pledges and vowed not to use the word, while and students across college campuses denounced its use.

Special Olympics’ goal is to banish the word “retard” as a term of derision while changing attitudes about the 190 million people worldwide who have mental disabilities. The word is derived from “mental retardation,” which was a common term used by doctors and scientists in the 1900s.

Actor and activist John C. McGinley, of the hit show “Scrubs,” helped with this effort by making national media appearances on behalf of the campaign. McGinley’s 11-year-old son has Down syndrome.

The manpower behind the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign comes from the students who devised the campaign last month during a Special Olympics youth summit in Idaho and organized rallies around the country. Last month, President Obama ignited fury over disability “slurs” after making a comment about his low, “Special Olympics”-like bowling score on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

In response to Obama’s gaffe, Kolan McConiughey, a mentally disabled man considered one of the nation’s top Special Olympics bowlers, said like to go to the White House and show the president how to bowl better. “He bowled a 129. I bowl a 300. I could beat that score easily,” McConiughey said.

Obama has since apologized to Special Olympics chairman Tim Shriver for the comment, and has invited Special Olympics athletes to the White House to bowl or play basketball.

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