KAPAA — Sitting in the classrooms of Kapaa High School, senior Bryson Baligad has heard the word “retarded” used many times.
And each time it made him cringe.
Baligad, a member of the Project Unify Club, is one of many Kapaa High students who came together to stop the use of the “R-word” through the campaign, “Spread the Word to End the Word.”
“It’s important because we have to realize that special needs students are just like us, but they’re just a little bit different,” Baligad said. “I think it’s important to realize that they deserve the same respect as we do, so we need to give them that respect.”
Project Unify members packed Kapaa High School’s cafeteria on Friday as they helped individuals sign pledges to stop the word’s use. As the students took pledges and signed the SWEW banner, they received T-shirts, bags and lollipops.
“The more people we get, it shows the more support behind us, and it shows that this is a really ongoing problem in our community.
As an inclusion school and an inclusion community, we shouldn’t have this problem,” Samantha Gilbert, president of the Project Unify Club, said.
Gilbert and the other members of Project Unify sampled randomly one day how many times they heard the word on the school’s campus. It turned out to be 84.
“I feel like there’s no difference whatsoever in someone who’s mentally handicapped and someone who’s, what people would call, average,” Gilbert said. “To me, there’s, like, no line in between us. We’re all equal and so for people to actually use that to distinguish them in a certain category, it’s hurtful to see them being hurt just because of how mentally disabled they are.”
In order to fund SWEW, the Kapaa High School Foundation donated $1,350 to Project Unify, which contributed to the banner and shirts.
Senior Amanda Thayer is doing her senior project on inclusion and came up with the idea to test the word around the school.
“I decided to do it because I’ve been in Special Olympics since 2013, and I find being in an inclusive classroom is really important, because in the real world, it’s not segregated,” she said.
Project Unify is a youth community that increases athletic and leadership opportunities for students with disabilities and is under the Special Olympics.
The purpose of SWEW is to raise the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing affects of the word “retard” and to encourage others to pledge to stop its use. It started at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games.
“It’s a great cause to go for especially if you like the idea of equality,” Baligad said. “It’s a good thing to be a part of because it’s really like showing that everyone is the same.”