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Call In PA Wednesday To End the 'R' Word

March 3, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - A campaign is underway in Pennsylvania and across the country, to get people to stop using the 'R' words: 'retarded' and 'retard.' As Matthew Aaron, president and CEO of Special Olympics Pennsylvania explains, these words are seen as derogatory toward people with intellectual disabilities, no matter whether they are used in direct reference to them.

"Just as the letting the 'N' word slip out in everyday conversation would not be acceptable and would not be right, we're trying to raise attention and awareness around the 'R' word – that it's not right, either."

The 'R' word hit the headlines recently when President Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel used it to describe activists unhappy with the pace of health care reform, and radio talk host Rush Limbaugh stated he saw nothing wrong with its use. Athletes who take part in Special Olympics Pennsylvania feel differently, says Aaron, sharing stories of their encounters with the terms.

"They hear it in school, they hear it in the workplace, they hear it in their communities; and it does do damage, it does hurt them, whether or not it's specifically directed at them."

When people ask, 'Don't you make the problem bigger than it is, by drawing attention to it?' Aaron replies that it's an unnecessary obstacle for people with intellectual disabilities, who strive for lives that are as normal as possible.

"When they run into obstacles and barriers, like the harmful effects of the 'R' word, that sets them back and doesn't give them those opportunities. And so, that's what we're trying to address here."

Aaron says the ultimate goal of Wednesday's "Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign is to gather 100,000 signatures on the Web site www.R-word.org from people pledging to no longer use these terms.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA