Rochester Participates in Campaign to End the "R" Word

Mar 2, 2016

A team of volunteers at Strong Memorial Hospital encourage people to Spread the Word to End the Word.
Credit Veronica Volk / WXXI News

A national campaign to end use of the words "retard" and "retarded" has mobilized volunteers and organizations in Rochester.

Spread the Word to End the Word was started by a group of young people as a grassroots movement to promote treating people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with dignity.

Participants sign big, colorful pledge posters, vowing not to use the "R" word, and instead, replace it with another "R" word: Respect. People can also sign online.

According to the Census Bureau, one in five people in the US has a disability.

Courtney Dolan is the public education coordinator at Starbridge. She says, with that statistic in mind, people should be more conscious of the language they use.

"So often people use that word without realizing the hurtfulness of it. It's demoralizing, and words really do matter. When something is hurtful, we shouldn't continue to do it."

Ann Costello is the Director of the Golisano Foundation. She says they're working to make sure Rochester has the most pledges of any city participating in the campaign.

"Unfortunately, the 'R' word has found its way into popular culture, and it's a slur. It's a negative stereotype against people with disabilities. Language is powerful, and we need to be careful about the words we choose when describing people."

Costello says this campaign fits perfectly with the foundation's mission, which is to treat everyone, especially those with intellectual disabilities, with respect.

The local campaign is in its sixth year, and Costello says in that time it has grown to include over twenty five community organizations.