The Spread the Word to End the Word campaign has gained attention on Facebook and Twitter and now among the Gannon University community.
According to the campaign’s official website, r-word.org, Spread the Word is “an ongoing effort by Special Olympics, Best Buddies International and our supporters to raise the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the word ‘retard(ed)’ and encourage people to pledge to stop using the R-word.”
The initiative also works to bring awareness and acceptance through different attitudes. Changing the attitude toward the word can help change attitudes in communities. Currently, Spread the Word has an online roster of more than 488,000 people pledging to not say the R-word anymore.
To support the campaign, Gannon University’s occupational therapy master’s program planned several events – speakers on Monday and an inclusion dance Saturday.
Julia Campbell, who holds a master’s degree in occupational therapy, said that the OT program is building on what five students started last year.
“These events are our effort, as future occupational therapists, to advocate for individuals with disabilities and their families by raising awareness,” Campbell said.
Nicole Edwards, a Gannon alumna and registered occupational therapist, spoke at Monday’s event. Edwards was one of five students to pioneer the on-campus Spread the Word campaign last year. Nicole Delsandro, manager of the Erie City Special Olympics, also spoke Monday.
Campbell said that the OT program has been in contact with the Special Olympics because Saturday’s Spring Extravaganza dance will support the organization. The Spring Extravaganza is a casual dance from 6:30-9 p.m. Saturday.
Campbell said that this event will include other activities, such as karaoke and crafts suitable for a variety of individuals.
“We also aim to create a comfortable and inclusive environment for all people since our purpose is for inclusion,” she said.
Campbell said the dance is an opportunity that individuals with disabilities often do not get to experience and this event provides them that opportunity.
“Our intention with the event is to benefit the population of individuals with various disabilities in the Erie community; however, the effect on us is immeasurable,” Campbell said.
From the program’s experience last year, Campbell said that the attendees and family members demonstrated gratitude for the opportunity to be involved in such an inspiring campaign.
“This led to our encouragement and motivation to exceed their expectations once again,” she said.
Campbell said the dance has additional benefits.
“We are also learning how to better interact with this population, which is an invaluable experience for us as future occupational therapists,” she said.
Rebecca Lupo, 24, is currently working on her master’s in rehabilitation counseling at Gannon. She said Spread the Word hits home for her because her twin sister, Sarah, has Down syndrome.
“It means ending the spread of a derogatory word and gaining respect for individuals with intellectual disabilities,” Lupo said. “It’s especially important to me because of my sister.”
Lupo said that she feels many people can’t see how hurtful their words can be, particularly when directed toward individuals with disabilities.
“I don’t think people always think about how what they say can affect the next person,” Lupo said.
She said if she talks to someone who uses the word in conversation, she politely asks them to not use it again and then educates them on why not to.
For more information on Saturday’s dance or the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, contact Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org.