Changing the Future for Inclusion

According to the California Department of Education, children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their peers without disabilities.

Clare and Tarin are some of the young people looking to change that.

The girls are currently seniors at Davis Senior High School and recently joined other students throughout Northern California and Nevada to host awareness campaigns at their respective schools during R-word Week in March. The initiatives were part of the annual Spread the Word to End the Word movement around the country, educating the public about the negative effects of using the word “retard(ed)” and encouraging people to pledge to stop saying the word as a starting point toward creating more accepting communities for everyone.

Tarin and Clare, who started a Best Buddies club at Davis on their own at the beginning of the school year, organized a week full of activities around the R-word campaign to promote inclusion between students in special education and general education. Monday was a “Pledge Day’ that encouraged students to sign the Spread the Word to End the Word banner; on Tuesday, the girls developed an obstacle course to challenge general education students to maneuver around blindfolded, to simulate vision impairment, and to navigate in a wheelchair; Wednesday featured speakers from Best Buddies and Special Olympics; and the week culminated in a Unified Basketball game on Friday during the lunch period.

“We want students to understand that people with disabilities are no different than anyone else,” explained Clare. “They enjoy doing the same things – playing basketball, watching sports, going to movies with their friends. It’s important to get that message out there by having these social events where students can come to watch, interact and learn.”

The Statewide Taskforce on Education recently reported that less than 30 percent of students indicate that they would be comfortable even speaking to a classmate with an intellectual disability. Tarin believes that the issue can be remedied through education and simply getting students with special needs to be a visible and comfortable part of the campus.

“Depending on the way you grow up, a lot of people aren’t really educated about [special needs] and don’t know what’s different and how to react,” she said. “With the R-word, people may not really realize what they’re saying and the impact it can have when they use it. That’s a major part of this campaign.”

Along with the group at Davis, R-word awareness campaigns, activities and Unified Basketball games were held at Rocklin High School (in conjunction with Whitney High School), Reed High School, Desert Oasis High School, Crocker Middle School, Givens Elementary School, Dondero Elementary School, Harmon Elementary School and others during the week.

Clare explained that, while there are some obstacles to getting the interest of all students, the overall response has been positive.

“We’ve had a lot of support from our school and a good number of students came out to the Unified Basketball game,” she said. “A lot of people signed the banner, which was nice to see. We saw that some students have never really thought about the R-word being hurtful until this week.”

Inclusion and respect start at an early age. And while Clare and Tarin will soon graduate and move on to the next chapters in their lives, they hope that the momentum that they and Special Olympics put into place will continue for future students at the school.

Davis will host a Unified Track event on Wednesday, March 15, taking advantage of the school’s roughly 230 track athletes to build more relationships and awareness for students with intellectual disabilities on campus.
Stay up-to-date on the latest events and achievements in local schools by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. More information on Unified Sports, the Schools Partnership Program and the R-word campaign is available at and


How To Host a Disabilities Awareness Week

When we voted on our spring teachers of the season, we read that one of our nominees (and winner! for the Mission Valley region) organized a disabilities week. Here’s what the nomination had to say about Kennedy High School’s SDC Teacher Valerie Hunter and the week:

“Leading up to our last event of the year, Valerie organized a group of teachers and students on her campus to initiate a disabilities awareness week and promote Special Olympics. With her efforts along with her colleagues, the general education students supported their Special Olympics track and field team. Not only did they show them their support on their campus, but they had 30 students attend our final event to cheer on their school’s team.”

The disabilities awareness week was a smashing success because of Ms. Hunter! We at Our Unified Schools just had to know more about this great week, and Ms. Hunter was kind enough to answer our questions! Here is what she had to say about it and having Special Olympics in the classroom at Kennedy:

“Everything Special Olympics was trying to do got achieved through our school! It is remarkable and perfect!! Thank you so much for having this program and making it the best thing to happen to special education! Inclusion is so important, and I think this really helped our students feel included into our campus.”

Now let’s hear more about this fantastic week! What did your school do for the disabilities week? 

Ms. Hunter: We set up an event every day of the week to help spread the word about Special Olympics and to help our students not use the r-word.

Monday and Tuesday, we had nice carnival-type games and we advertised for the relay race.

On Wednesday, we had a relay race that had different stations for students to switch off while performing a task – like changing their clothes into a costume or picking up cotton balls. One was to run an egg on a spoon and shake Ping-Pong balls out of a box attached to your waist! It was hilarious to see all the kids working and doing so well together. Each round had a general education student at each station to help the students go through the run. And the runners were mixed well. Sometimes it was two students with special needs and sometimes it was one of each and sometimes it was two general ed. Everyone cheered for everyone!! It was so great!! You could really feel the excitement and the love all around!!

On Thursday and Friday, we had beautiful performances in the amphitheater for our students. It was really great because the students sang songs from Disney and Michael Jackson. The place was actually full!! And the students did an awesome job! And a lot of the students ended up dancing around. It was so great! What parts of the week did you find to be especially effective?

VH: I liked that we had something to do each day in the quad. It was hard to get student involvement at first, but you can tell they really got into it. I think the relay and music performances were the most effective. Friday really wrapped it up, and I could really tell that both sets of students got into it. They genuinely cared and didn’t mind when my class started dancing and stuff. We hollered and just had a blast!! How did the general education students show support for their peers receiving special education?

VH: They were very encouraging and wooped and hollered. I didn’t hear bad laughing or negativity or making fun, so that was cool. How was it having them cheering at the final event?

VH: It was amazing and just feeling the love made tears come to my eyes. What kind of feedback did you get from the general education students?

VH: They want to help out more like become my TA and stuff. And when we go down the halls the students are like “hey!” and smile and some even say my students’ names!! They will give high fives and stuff like that – it’s cool to watch! What did your students think about competing in Special Olympics?

VH: Some of my students will not stop talking about Special Olympics – they are excited to know when the next competition is going to be! They want to practice or retell what happened at the last one. During a lesson, I asked the students what starts with the letter “B,” and one student responded with basketball and then continued to say, “Like from Special Olympics when I threw it to Leo!” I was very impressed and very happy!! He is my most verbal student but I like to think that some of my other students are thinking that but might not be able to say it. What did the students receiving special education think about having their peers support them?

VH: They thought it was so cool to have students in the stands!! Our school brought a bunch of students over to the game. When we came back, my students said things like, “Did you see everyone cheering for us?!” It was so great to hear them get excited like that! And, the day before the competition, some of the students came by my class to wish my students luck!!! It was so awesome!! They signed the banners and did high fives and fist bumps and it was just beautiful and made my students so happy!! It was remarkable! Are there any handy tips you would share with other schools putting on similar events?

VH: We had the ASB student leaders set up the events! Let the kids do it, and let them come up with the ideas and stuff. I think that helped them get more in to it . As a special ed teacher, I tried hard to get out emails and things and gather support from general ed teachers. I really loved working with our journalism teacher, our yearbook committee and the ASB students. I think the ASB students really are the main reason this all went so well. My main job was to make sure my students were there at events. I asked the ASB student leaders to come in my class and talk to the students and ask them what they wanted. My students wanted T-shirts! And ASB MADE SHIRTS FOR THEM!!! They all matched and it was great! What would you tell others about your schools involvement with Special Olympics?

VH: It is a must!! It’s not that it doesn’t mean anything without the involvement of the general education students, but having the whole school be involved makes it sooo special!! It creates this vibe and it’s a happy one and a good proud one! I think getting the general education students to think outside themselves and think about helping others can be really inspiring to them. Many of them tell me later that they are so impressed with my students and some of them truthfully tell me that they didn’t know my students can do so much! Some of them feel guilty after relaying this truth to me, but I reassure them that my students continue to surprise me everyday. I also tell them that my students are just like you, the general education students. I am constantly surprised and thankful for their support!!

Everything Special Olympics was trying to do got achieved through our school! It is remarkable and perfect!! Thank you so much for having this program and making it the best thing to happen to special education! Inclusion is so important and I think this really helped our students feel included into our campus.

Thank you, Ms. Hunter for sharing with us!

Five Easy Things You Can Do to End the R-Word

Join the movement – team up with Special Olympics to spread the word to end the word! We have five easy ways that you can help put an end to the r-word!

1. Take the Pledge

Be part of the millions of people who have pledged to never use the r-word! Click here to take the pledge! Then share the URL with your friends to get them to take the pledge!

2. Share on Your Facebook, Twitter

Social media is a great way to encourage people to not use the r-word! Download one of our Facebook cover photos and or profile pictures to spread the word to end the word! Tag Special Olympics Northern California or Special Olympics Nevada so we can see your posts! On Twitter, include @SONorCal or @SONevada!

Right click on the photos below and save to your desktop. Then post to your Facebook with the caption:

I took the pledge to end the r-word. Will you do the same?






3. Say Something

When you hear someone say the r-word – even if it’s a joke – it can be awkward to say something. But you can make a real difference by asking them not to use it. Click here to see easy ways to ask friends, students and family members not to use the r-word!

4. Talk the Talk

Respect for everyone, including those with disabilities, extends beyond just the r-word. Quiz yourself on how respectful your speech is – click here!

5. Hear Personal Stories

Enlightened folks know that the r-word hurts but hearing stories from those who have had the r-word used against them really emphasizes why we should never use the r-word.

Lowell High School’s fantastic video

Meet Mary-Ellen Powers, a Special Olympics athlete who has this poignant piece to say about asking people to not use the r-word:

“We aren’t being politically correct, or the ‘word police.’ We are compassionate people who have been hurt by the sting of that one word and we don’t want anyone else hurt by it. Words DO hurt! We may learn at a slower rate, but we are not retarded. All we want is to be accepted, and respected! In fact, the only R-word in our dictionary is RESPECT!

Click here to see our community’s reaction to hearing someone use the r-word.

We have even more ideas that are perfect for students and schools looking to spread the word to end the r-word! Just click here to see our ideas and click here to see what free downloads we have! If you and your school are doing things to end the r-word, click here to share your story with us!

A Survey for Your Students

When we described our first meeting with the After-School All-Stars (they’re planning a Unified Sports Day, which you can read about here!), we talked about a survey we gave them. Thanks to the survey, we established a baseline of understanding with the students. It gave us a chance to see why they want to be involved, what they know about Special Olympics and more.

Not only did we get to know the students better, but it helps us tailor our programming to fit the students. What do they need to know? What do they feel about Special Olympics? Have they ever talked to a student with intellectual disabilities? You can see the survey the After-School All-Stars took by clicking here! After the Unified Sports Day they’re planning, we plan to give them another survey to learn more about their experience.

Surveys can be great when before you start a Special Olympics club, host a Schools Partnership Program, use one of our lesson plans, institute a Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, or even just to gauge awareness. The transformation between the before and after surveys can be monumental as your students or classmates become more respectful and accepting.

To help students and teachers everywhere, Our Unified Schools has put together free downloadable and customizable surveys!

Spread the Word to End the Word Survey:

Use these before and after survey before your school put on a Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign!

Before R-Word: PDF, Word

After R-Word: PDF, Word

Special Olympics Event/Understanding Survey:

Use these before and after survey before your schools host a competition, volunteer with students receiving special education, or really anything!

Before Event: PDF, Word

After Event: PDF, Word

We hope these surveys are helpful teacher tools! If there’s ever anything you’d like to see on, please let us know! Just email: OurUnifiedSchoolsBlog at

How Do You Feel When Someone Uses the R-Word?

Chances are you’ve heard someone use the r-word. Whether it was a just a joke or an intentional insult, it’s never OK to use the word. While medical professionals used to use mental retardation as a diagnosis, it’s now outdated and the correct term is people with intellectual disabilities. Still, many people don’t understand the damaging effects of using the r-word.

We polled our Facebook fans to see how they feel when someone uses the r-word, and this is what they said:

Mad. The r-word has no place in society…jokingly or not.

Very sad.

Deeply offended and upset.

I work in education and still hear educated people use the word. It infuriates me.

Pissed, irritated, mad. I just share my head because some people are not educated enough to know times have changed and that reference is not used nor shouldn’t be used anymore.

Makes me angry on behalf of my brother and his friends. They all have different abilities, and the casual use of the word belittles all of their accomplishments.


Sad for people who have never experienced the joy of knowing someone with an intellectual disability.

Blow to my solar plexus. Hard. I hate it.

I feel like I have been punched in the gut. It does not matter that I do not have an intellectual disability, I have a physical disability and it still hurts. We need respect. Everyone has feelings. The disabled are no different.

Makes me want to educate them towards knowledge. I feel sorry for any person that uses any name to categorize people. I feel people who use the r-word are just waiting for someone to call them out on it and show them how it’s not right.

Sad, frustrated and offended.

It offends me and I think less of the person who uses the word.

National Spread the Word to End the Word Day is March 5. If you’d like to pledge to end the r-word, please click here. To see what you can do at your school to promote acceptance and ending the r-word, please click here. To share your pledge to end the r-word on your social media channels, please click here.