UMass Boston Study Finds Pervasive Use of the 'R-word'

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University's Special Olympics Global Collaborating Center Lays Foundation for 'Spread the Word to End the Word' Campaign

UMass Boston

Spread the Word to End the Word - 3.31.09

(Boston - March 29, 2009) - As part of the campaign to end the use of the R-word, the Special Olympics Global Collaborating Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston, in conjunction with Harris Interactive, conducted a first of its kind survey of over 1000 youth nationwide to learn more about youth experiences with the R-word and found the use of the word is pervasive among youth.

Almost all youth (92%) have heard someone use the word, and most (86%) report hearing it from one of their peers. Interestingly the R-word seems to be used more often as a generic insult as far fewer youth (36%) have heard the R-word used in reference to a person who actually has an intellectual disability.

Special Olympics recently announced a new youth-led effort, "Spread the Word to End the Word - 3.31.09," to educate and raise awareness about individuals with intellectual disabilities and the offensive use of the word "retard" in casual conversation. As a result, young people across the United States are leading a nationwide push to get people to stop using the R-word as a put-down. People are encouraged to pledge to stop the use of the word at

The campaign to stamp out the use of the R-word is important because youth are not willing to admit that they use this term. Although almost all youth have heard the word, very few (20%) are willing to admit that they use the word themselves. Also, while 51% of youth reported feeling bad or sorry when someone was called the R-word, only 33% of youth took a stand among their peers and said it was wrong to say. In fact, many youth (39%) did nothing.

"The campaign is more than just getting people to stop using a word; it's about changing attitudes and it's about treating people with intellectual disabilities with respect," said Gary N. Siperstein, Ph.D., director of the Special Olympics Global Collaborating Center and Professor at UMass Boston's McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies.

The findings of this study, along with several other national studies conducted by UMass Boston's Center for Social Development and Education, focus on eliminating the societal stigma of intellectual disabilities and can be found at

About UMass Boston
With a growing reputation for innovative research addressing complex urban issues, the University of Massachusetts Boston, metropolitan Boston's only public university, offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston's seven colleges and graduate schools serve more than 14,000 students while engaging local, national, and international constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service activities. To learn more about UMass Boston, visit

About the Special Olympics Global Collaborating Center:
The Special Olympics Global Collaborating Center of the Center for Social Development and Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston is an internationally recognized research institute that conducts rigorous scientific research that is of value to the international community. In recent years, the GCC has conducted studies on the impact of Special Olympics on its constituents, and on attitudes of youth and adults internationally toward individuals with intellectual disabilities. For more information, visit

About Harris Interactive:
Harris Interactive is a global leader in custom market research. With a long and rich history in multimodal research, powered by our science and technology, we assist clients in achieving business results. Harris Interactive serves clients globally through our North American, European and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms. For more information, please visit

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