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PathPoint Spearheads Initiative to End the R-Word

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An initiative to stop the use of the word “retard(ed)” is gaining momentum in Santa Barbara. The initiative—called “End the R-Word”—is being spearheaded by Special Olympics and local nonprofit PathPoint. Both organizations led a protest rally in downtown Santa Barbara last Wednesday, March 5th.

The “End the R-Word” initiative aims to combat the inappropriate use of the word “retard(ed)” against persons with disabilities within and outside the Santa Barbara community.

“Name calling is plain wrong. Using the R-word is a form of hate speech, which cultivates discrimination, abuse, negative stereotypes, disenfranchisement, and even violence,” says Alana Walczak, VP and Director of PathPoint Santa Barbara. “Through this initiative, we aim to raise consciousness about the dehumanizing effects of the word ‘retard(ed)’and encourage understanding of, respect, and support to people with disabilities.”

Last week’s protest rally gathered a number of volunteers and supporters in De La Guerra Plaza to generate pledges among Santa Barbara residents to stop using the R-word as a starting point toward creating a more accepting attitude and environment for people with intellectual and other disabilities. The “End the R-Word” initiative is also underway at UCSB and Dos Pueblos High School, which has so far received more than 100 signatures and pledges from the Santa Barbara community.

Initially launched by Special Olympics through the website www.r-word.org in 2008, the “End the R-Word” initiative has been adopted by organizations such as PathPoint nationwide. Since its inception, the initiative has been successful in gathering almost 500,000 pledges across the country, which help raise awareness and seek public support in eliminating the word ‘retarded’ in the English language and its derogatory use in the media.

“The purpose of the ‘End the R-Word’ initiative is to get people thinking about the use of the word ‘retard(ed)," says Michelle Duke, Manager of Special Events and Volunteers for Special Olympics-Santa Barbara. “We hope to spread the message that the R-word is derogatory, exclusive, and hurtful to people with intellectual disabilities, their families and friends.” Efforts to end the R-word were also instrumental in the passing of Rosa’s Law, which was inspired by a Maryland woman with an intellectual disability and signed into law in 2010 by President Barack Obama. The bill was unanimously passed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, which subsequently made federal agencies drop the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” in federal health, education and labor laws and replaced them with “intellectual disability.” Since its signing into law, almost every state in America has passed similar legislation.

For more information and to make the pledge online, visit www.r-word.org. Taking the lead in the “End the R-Word” initiative is part of the activities in place for PathPoint’s 50th anniversary celebrations this year. The organization is planning to take a more active role in this initiative and make it an annual community awareness activity in Santa Barbara.