Best Buddies campaigns to promote respect, stop usage of R-word

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Audrey Zhang

Best Buddies kicked off their Spread the Word to End the Word campaign Sunday.

Best Buddies is an international nonprofit organization that works to improve the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through volunteer work. The Spread the Word campaign is a movement backed by the Special Olympics to ask people to stop saying the word “retarded.” Students involved in Best Buddies are paired with an individual that has an intellectual or developmental disability, and spend time with them doing various activities. 

Special education freshman Gracie Salinas, a member of Best Buddies, said many people don’t realize how hurtful the R-word can be.

“When someone says the R-word as a synonym for dumb, stupid, slow, I take it personally,” Salinas said. “It makes me feel as though they are using these adjectives to describe some of my best friends who have special needs. The R-word dehumanizes individuals with special needs.”

The word “retarded” is no longer used in a medical context, and has been replaced by referring to someone as having an “intellectual or developmental disability.”

The Spread the Word campaign, chaired by accounting and computer science senior Frank Long, kicked off Sunday with a film screening and discussion about promoting inclusion.

Boyce Gunderlach, a Buddy in the program who works with UT students, said the campaign is a way of speaking out.

“We want to get out there and explain how we feel,” Gunderlach said. “We don’t want to be called ‘retarded’ like in high school. The R-word is bad, and it has to go now.”

Bethany Rolan, supply chain management and economics junior and the coordinator of the film festival, said part of the goal was to start a safe discussion about including different perspectives.

“The film festival has always been one of my favorite events,” Rolan said. “The idea is to feature short films about intellectual and physical disabilities. We’re also bringing in people from the community to start an inclusive dialogue with the audience.”

The campaign will continue through the week with tabling on the West Mall, giving out pizza, taking the pledge to stop saying the word, and the opportunity to pie Best Buddies officers in the face. It is supported by more than 40 other student organizations on campus.

Salinas said she hopes the campaign will promote a more inclusive attitude toward people with disabilities.

“Spread the Word promotes first-person language in which the person’s name and personality come before their disability,” Salinas said. “Through Best Buddies and Spread the Word, I hope to achieve a better UT campus with greater understanding for individuals with special needs.”