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Arkansas Students Try to Eliminate the "R Word"

The Spread the Word to End the Word campaign has been adopted by some Arkansas high school students who hope their peers will learn to be more sensitive about people with intellectual disabilities. (Ron Brown)
The Spread the Word to End the Word campaign has been adopted by some Arkansas high school students who hope their peers will learn to be more sensitive about people with intellectual disabilities. (Ron Brown)
March 8, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - There are words in the English language that people have managed to get rid of over time, or replace with better alternatives, but there's still one that persists.

The word is "retarded" and when used to describe someone, it's offensive.

During March, National Disabilities Awareness Month, students across Arkansas have joined the "Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign.

Trea Kiser is a senior at Cabot High School. He and some of his friends collected petition signatures on their campus to get students to pledge to not use the "R word" anymore. Kiser says most don't realize how much it can hurt others.

"Kids don't realize that they might be talking to somebody that either has a friend, or a family or loved one, that is intellectually disabled," says Kiser. "And they don't realize that it could either hurt them internally, but they may not show it, or it could make them feel small."

Kiser says he hears other kids verbally bullying each other and hopes that by signing the pledge, students won't tolerate name-calling.

Kiser thinks if there's enough education about how hurtful that word can be, eventually it will be eliminated from our vocabulary.

"I was talking to some of the kids at my school and they were like, 'Well, I'm just signing the pledge, and I don't know if I'll be able to stop saying it completely.' And I said, 'You know what? This is the first step - if you need to sign it a million times to stop saying it, by God, I'm going to help you do it.'"

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan designated March as National Disabilities Awareness Month. And in 2010 President Obama signed Rosa's Law, which removed references to "mentally retarded individuals" and the term "mental retardation" from U.S. law.

They were replaced with the phrases "individuals with intellectual disabilities" and "intellectual disability."

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - AR