To date, nearly 500,000 people have taken the pledge online to end the use of the R-word and millions more have signed banners and petitions throughout the world. “We’ve had noticeable and sustainable impact, but these changes have not come easily, and six years ago, we were met with stiff opposition online and were repeatedly told that our efforts were a violation of free speech and that changing language was a ‘waste of time,’” said Soeren Palumbo, co-founder of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign. “Change is about more than words. Change is about words and more. The words we use serve as filters that distort our understanding of ourselves and those around us. And when we remove filters tinted with years of stigma and prejudice, then we can begin to see each other’s humanity a bit more clearly, and begin to act accordingly.”
What started as one single action of taking the pledge has evolved into communities across the world challenging others to talk, think and write with respect. A letter-writing campaign and social media blitz led by the Special Olympics Youth Activation Summit drew more attention to the campaign – as well as an apology – on American television host and political commentator Bill O’Reilly’s show after the R-word was used.
Most recently, Special Olympics athlete John Franklin Stephens led the charge via a blog post that went viral when pundit Ann Coulter lashed out with the word. Stephens received support from over 3 million people through social media in just a matter of days. Supporters from across the country were urging Stephens to ‘run for President!’
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.”
In 2010, a Maryland woman with an intellectual disability was the inspiration for Rosa’s Law. The bill, championed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyom.), garnered overwhelming support in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. 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.