Earlier this month, President Barack Obama signed Rosa’s Law into action, removing demeaning terms against the mentally disabled from federal policy. The law adds momentum to a growing nationwide campaign to end the use of the “R” word.
Rosa’s Law eliminates the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” and replaces them with people-first terms such as “individual with an intellectual disability” and “intellectual disability,” according to the Special Olympics official website.
Teri Bromberek, program manager of Best Buddies Wisconsin, said the passing of Rosa’s Law is important because the word has become derogatory.
“People use it and are unaware that they are using it,” Bromberek said.
Best Buddies pairs people with intellectual disabilities with high school or college students to help build friendships. The organization has partnered with 16 Wisconsin high schools and five colleges in the state, including Marquette.
Gretchen Keblusek, president of Best Buddies Marquette, said this year Best Buddies is promoting a yearlong theme of “Spread the Word to End the Word” to combat use of the “R” word.
Best Buddies Marquette took on the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign last year in a smaller week-long event, according to Keblusek. During the week, Best Buddies had a poster in the Alumni Memorial Union that students could sign, pledging to end use of the “R” word.
“People think it’s a violation of their first amendment rights, but it’s not a legal campaign, we are not trying to ban the word,” said Keblusek, a junior in the College of Education. “It’s more of an educational campaign.”
Bromberek said Best Buddies Wisconsin encourages all of its school chapters to do something for “Spread the Word to End the Word.”
“Last year for ‘Spread the Word to End the Word’ day, high school students made banners, wore T-shirts or participated in a day of silence,” Bromberek said.
This year, the Cedarburg/Homestead area is putting on a fashion show on Dec. 11 to help kick off events for the campaign and raise money to help fund programs and speakers in March, Bromberek said.
Marquette does a showcase every year in March, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is planning a speaker and a night of awareness for “Spread the Word to End the Word” day on March 2.
Kelly Kloepping, vice president of communications for Special Olympics Wisconsin, said she believes Obama passing Rosa’s Law means he has taken the quest to end the “R” word to a more serious level.
“I hear it on a weekly basis as a casual insult amongst kids during recess,” Kloepping said. “They do not use it to intentionally hurt someone’s feelings, but it is just too easy to roll off the tongue.”
Special Olympics Wisconsin, which has been a part of the campaign for about a year-and-a-half, has an AmeriCorps member working with the group solely on the “R” word campaign, Kloepping said.
Bromberek said the campaign has done a lot to gain people’s attention, especially on a school level.
“It is most effectively done at a school basis, where your peers are telling you not to use the word,” Bromberek said.
Keblusek said it is amazing to be a part of something much bigger and feels there is still work to be done, but also that things are moving in the right direction.
“My hope is that this campaign dies in six months because then we know it has been a success,” Kloepping said.