Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spread the Word to End the Word 3-2-11

One year ago, in response to President Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s use of the word “retarded,” the Illinois Special Olympics released the following statement to the media:

Special Olympics Calls on Schools, Organizations and Communities to

Spread the Word to End the Word and Help Stop Use of the Word “Retard”

NORMAL, Ill. – When you ask Special Olympics athletes about the R-Word, they will tell you about the hurt they have endured over the years being called “retard” or “retarded.” A movement began more than a year ago by Special Olympics International, led by youth leaders, to raise society’s awareness about the harmful effects of using the R-Word. A website was created so people of all ages can take a pledge not to use the R-Word at The second annual day of awareness to Spread the Word to End the Word is March 3, 2010.

Schools, organizations and communities are encouraged to plan events for March 3 or anytime during the year to Spread the Word to End the Word with a commitment to creating an atmosphere of respect and inclusion for people with disabilities. Visit the Special Olympics Illinois website at for ideas and links to resources to Spread the Word. As Special Olympics athlete and Global Messenger Lauren Miller of Evanston says, “Let’s change the R-Word to Respect.”
Special Olympics Illinois is making Spread the Word public service announcements available to television stations, recorded by Special Olympics College coordinator Soeren Palumbo of Palatine and by Rob Johnson of CBS2 Chicago. Each has a family member with an intellectual disability.
Special Olympics Illinois is working with three schools in Illinois on specific Spread the Word projects and events as part of a Special Olympics Project Unify grant and include the following:

- Schaumburg High School’s three leadership classes will each create a marketing campaign to Spread the Word at their school – the winning idea will be implemented the week leading up to March 3.

- Mt. Greenwood School in Chicago ’s campaign led by the seventh-grade students will educate and rally support at two school assemblies where they will present a skit and solicit R-Word pledges on Feb. 26.

- Unit 5/Parkside Elementary School in Normal ’s fifth-grade class will present daily creative P.A. announcements (2/16-3/18) about the R-Word, solicit pledges, make posters, etc. The effort concludes with a one-hour school assembly on March 19 where students explain the effect of the project on them.

These schools will also have their students involved in the Special Olympics Young Athletes Program for children ages 2-7, helping with training and the Young Athletes culminating events in their areas this spring.
Spread the Word Resources are available from Special Olympics – go to for these links and information:

• Take the pledge to not use the R-Word
• Download the Spread the Word Toolkit
• Watch the “One” music video on YouTube created at last year’s Youth Leadership Forum at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights . A DVD is available to schools and groups from the Special Olympics Illinois’ communications department.
• College students who want to make a difference can register for SO College through the Special Olympics website.
• Bring a group to volunteer for a Special Olympics Illinois event or support fundraisers like the Polar Plunge to benefit Special Olympics Illinois.

Barbara DiGuido, Director of Communications and Media Relations, received the following response from journalist Stan Zegal, Publisher of the Winfield Register and the Warrenville Sentinal: 
Oh grow up!

DiGuido replied:

Mr. Zegel:

I think you might feel differently if you had a child with Down syndrome or another intellectual disability,

Which prompted Stan Zegel to issue this response:

Only if I was in denial and believed that magic words could reverse the condition. Otherwise the knowledge that another person is retarded alerts one to make allowances for unconventional behavior or substandard attainment. Some folks are not as smart as others or act in weird ways. It is quickly excused by others when the subject is known to be mentally retarded

Euphemisms just try to pretend that things are different from reality, and satisfy the weird beliefs of the Politically Correct Language crowd that everyone is entitled to go through life without having their feelings hurt, even by being exposed to truthful observations.

A person who cannot see is blind. There is nothing wrong with that, and there is no insinuation of blame to them if their condition is described as what it is. Blind. "Visually impaired" is PC but avoids the issue.
A person who cannot hear is deaf.
A person who cannot speak is dumb.
A fat person is fat. Saying that I am "barometrically challenged" won't make me thin.
A mentally retarded person is retarded. His mental development has been retarded by some condition. There is no blame implied, but it is a general description of the end result, which may arise from any of several causes.
A crippled person is crippled. No blame, just fact.

And ;yes, some people with certain behaviors are crazy. There are congenital or other medical abnormalities that may cause that antisocial behavior, but the result is still crazy behavior. Mothers who kill their children, terrorists, etc. come to mind.

Stan Zegel
The Winfield Register
The Warrenville Sentinel

This exchange circulated throughout the Special Olympics community and was met with outrage and disgust.  When it found it's way to my inbox, my blood was boiling but instead of replying out of blinding fury, I challenged myself to contact Mr. Zegel and explain this to him in a calm, dignified manner with the hopes that something I said may actually get through to him and allow him to realize just how misguided his remarks were.  Here is my email to Mr. Zegel:

Mr. Zegel,

Upon reading your essay on the word "retarded," I challenged myself not to react in anger but rather, to explain this to you in a way that may make sense and clarify the issue. My older sister has Down Syndrome but I don't consider her "retarded". You see, retarded is an all encompassing word that does not allow for exceptions. An individual who is simply "retarded" would be limited - period. And while I would agree that Leanne has her limitations, she is not entirely limited. There are many areas in which she excels. For example, Leanne is more friendly and charismatic than most people I know - she can make conversation with anyone. So her social quotient is not "retarded". Likewise, when you are upset or feeling down, she is the first person to pick up on that and try to comfort you. Her sense of empathy is not "retarded". Leanne says and does hilarious things all the time - her sense of humor is not "retarded". Leanne's bedroom is always immaculate - she has a place for every possession and a strong focus on maintaining order - her organizational skills are not "retarded"...

As you can see, I can go on and on about areas in which Leanne is not limited. Now, I admit, she needs some help in other areas. She has difficulty counting currency and sometimes she needs help understanding the concept of time. This is why we prefer to refer to her intellectual condition as having "Special Needs". There are certain tasks that require Leanne to take a little extra time and enlist in a little extra help. But trust me - Leanne gets through the majority of her day without any extra help. She is not "retarded".

I hope this sheds some light on the issue and allows you to understand why yes, a blind person may be blind without exception. They will never experience a moment of sight. But Leanne, completes many daily functions without an inkling of retardation. I hope in the future, you'll think twice before categorizing someone as wholly retarded and rather, stop to realize that this person has many abilities and a few "special needs."

Thank you,
Please join me today as I Spread the Word to End the Word

My big sister & I at my wedding
(she called herself my "Best Woman" instead of "Maid of Honor")
August 2002


  1. Elizabeth, you are truly an amazing woman. Your response was so poised and clearly communicated. Leanne, and others who have been put in this "retarded" category continue to disprove this label daily with the help and love and support of family and friends.

  2. My daughter has Down syndrome, and yes, she has mental retardation, but that does not define her. To me it's not necessarily the idea of labeling someone "retarded" if they do in fact have some degree of mental retardation. It is the fact that in our so-called modern, civilized society, many of our citizens feel it is their right to hurl insults at others without stopping for a second to think of the consequences or of the collateral damage. I think most of the time the people who use the word(s) as an insult, are not even thinking about who else they might hurt when they fling their words into the public realm. I've always thought that when a person feels the need to stoop low enough to actively insult someone else, it speaks way more about the perpetrator
    than the "victim." In my view, getting your kicks by hurting other people, in any way, makes you somehow less human. I signed the Pledge over a year ago, and speak out when I hear people using the word in a pejorative way, but sadly, there will always be people out there who just don't get it and probably never will. Good for you for giving this Stan Zegel another perspective. Maybe there is hope for him, who knows. I'm a lurker (started a blog but am not active enough with it), and I LOVE reading your posts about both your Divas!

  3. BRAVO, WELL SAID!!! Hope he read that and it should definitely have sunk in.

  4. I was made aware of the "spread the word to end the word" campaign thru a friend's facebook page. I'm a person of great curiosity, so I followed thru to see what the poster actually was referring to. I love the message, but thought a poster with a little more info as to what's it referring to would be more "in your face" so to speak. And, I will spread the word. Have a great day..

  5. Mr. Zegel celebrates Hitler's birthday, a man who wanted to exterminate "retarded" people, so unfortunately, you probably didn't get through to him!