The “Spread the Word to End the Word” Campaign” has been getting a lot of public relations play lately while I think eliminating this word from our commonly used language is a worthwhile and important goal-I’m just not sure we can get there from here. Here is what I mean.

Given the relatively recent and tragic passing of Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger, the Grandfather of Social Role Valorization and Normalization, I feel inspired and a little brazened to blog about the social messaging inherent in Special Olympics.

Dare I say it? With tremendous respect for the decades of awareness and goodwill that Special Olympics has brought to the contributions of citizens with disabilities in this country and around the world, I wonder if it’s time that we begin to insist that our communities welcome and include citizens with disability into community sporting opportunities – just as we are doing in employment, living, and education. For as long as a parallel system exists, there is no impetus for the community to do what is right.

Recently North America marked “Spread the Word to End the Word” day – a spectacular and profoundly important initiative. This initiative has been created and stewarded by the Special Olympics.

The greatest injustice is probably not what the “pity peddlers” (to borrow a phrase from one of the greatest thinkers and writers of social justice and disability, John McKnight) would have you think it is. Is it me, or is there somewhat of a contradiction between the rights based social marketing campaign to eradicate this hate proliferating word from our vernacular, and the benevolent and charitable industry that is Special Olympics?

In what universe is it impossible to include a nine-year old in community sports teams? I have heard the arguments about the importance of ensuring Special Olympics exist for adults with disabilities “because there is nothing else out there for them”. I’m not sure where this is true, because in my community I might be the worst volleyball player ever, but if I have enough coin in my pocket to buy a round of beer after our rec. league game at the community centre then I am welcomed with open arms!

It is little wonder why so many in the field of education, employment and community living can’t figure out what it is we want for the people we love who have disabilities.

We want them to experience the richness and messiness, and ordinariness of friends, and homework, and parents that embarrass them.

We don’t want them separated from their classmates, in special classrooms, or special schools, or on special buses.

We want them to develop careers that nurture their souls and inspire their interests and connect them to other people in meaningful ways.

We want them in and with!

We want teachers and administrators who understand their unique learning styles and use the inclusion of kids with disabilities in classrooms to create broader and more all – encompassing teaching techniques, which will enhance the classroom and learning outcomes for all kids.

Lets pull it together people! If we don’t want our children taken out of the regular routine of the school day to learn life skills, how to stack cans, do school janitorial duties and recycling, to be segregated, isolated, and marginalized – grouped together by something the community has largely considered to be broken about our children – then we can’t allow them to be separated by something equally segregating but dressed up to look more acceptable.

If Justice and Equity is really all we want with and for people with disabilities, then we have to start playing by the rules that we set.

Separate is never equal.

Sometimes we have to recognize when initiatives contain the elements of “same product, different packaging.”