The Kick-Off for the 10th Annual “Spread the Word for Inclusion”

Montserrat Ricossa

“Spreading The Word For Inclusion” kicked off its 10th year at Augustana – previously known as “Spread The Word To End The Word.”
Best Buddies is an organization that helps to create opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Augustana’s chapter organized the week, and President Francesca Persiani explained, “Although Spread the Word is just one week, its mission can and should carry on throughout daily life.”
Persiani, like many others in the group, believe it’s time to stop using the “R-word.” It is still used as a medical term, but it has grown to have a negative connotation that is synonymous to “dumb.”
“Around the world, exclusion and discrimination continue to divide people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities. It is our job to bridge this gap, and the time is now: choose to include,” Emily Brooks, sophomore member of Best Buddies, said.
In fact, the unemployment rate for people with IDD (Intellectual or developmental disabilities) reflects that. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is over double that of people without disabilities: 8 percent versus 3.7 percent.
When Michael Johnson, one of the Best Buddies, was asked what he’d tell someone who uses the R-word, he responded, “It’s not a good thing, just imagine yourself in that same predicament. Would you like to be called that?”
Ashley Tillman, another Best Buddy, said hearing the R-word is “very hurtful and insulting because it shouldn’t be used at all.”
Sophomore David Langun said he had been called the R-word in middle school and it made him feel “horrible in that moment.” He thinks the inclusivity week is a good thing and will help promote awareness for the word.
“By using the word in conversation, you are not only personally degrading individuals with an IDD, but also feeding in to the narrative that people with an IDD are somehow inferior to people without. There are plenty other words to use that do not marginalize an entire sector of the population, and it is important that we steer away from words that do,” Brooks said.
The week started with “Cover the Word” by writing positive words to replace offensive language. It continued with a collaboration among Best Buddies and Sustained Dialogue on how to approach situations when negative language such as the R-word is used.
On Wednesday, people were encouraged to “Eat the Word” by enjoying a popsicle and buying a ticket for the Best Buddies raffle. The next day, they aimed to fill the campus with positivity by having everyone do a random act of kindness. Finally, on Friday there was the pledge to End the Word, where one could sign a pledge to refrain from using the R-word.
Persiani says before Best Buddies, she didn’t know anything about disabilities. After she joined the organization in high school her “entire life changed. They have shown me what true and unconditional love is. The friends I have made in Best Buddies aren’t judgmental, they see people for the person they are deep down and not appearance or social status.”
Brooks said,“Best Buddies has given me a renewed passion for inclusion, understanding, and de-stigmatizing issues surrounding individuals with an IDD that I will carry with me throughout my life.”