Special Olympics athletes: stop using R-word

Mark Sterlacci
Mark Sterlacci

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

KANEOHE (KHNL) - You may have noticed people wearing special T-shirts Tuesday. The shirt says, "Spread the Word to End the Word," and is part of a nationwide effort to get people to stop using the R-word, or retard.

Supporters of the movement are also using buttons and silicone bracelets to send the message. People with intellectual disabilities say the R-word is hurtful and demeaning.

"Good afternoon," Mark Sterlacci, Safeway employee, said to a customer.

Sterlacci, 22, has worked at Safeway in Kaneohe for four years. As a courtesy clerk, he has several responsibilities.

"Get all those carts," he said. "I do, clean the store."

He also enjoys greeting the customers.

"Good afternoon, good morning, good eve, have a nice day, and be gentle to them," he said.

But there's one thing that gets the talented Special Olympics athlete down -- when people use the R-word.

"Because it hurt my feeling and other people with special ability and their family. Thank you," Sterlacci said.

So on this day, advocates for those with intellectual disabilities are spreading the word to end the word.

"It came from a youth global summit that happened in February," Nancy Bottelo, Special Olympics Hawaii president, said. "It was just real exciting because youth got together to say what is it they want to change in their environment, and they wanted to change the way people use that word."

Supporters of the movement are wearing T-shirts and buttons to let the community know the R-word is derogatory.

"It's hurtful, you know, and people just need to start thinking about their actions and thinking about their words and realizing that we have to value all people in society," Bottelo said.

Folks who know Sterlacci, who graduated from Castle High, say he deserves the same respect as everyone else.

"I will take this cart for you. There you go," Sterlacci said. "Have a nice day."

"You, too," the customer responded. "Take care."

Officials say, in Delaware, 40,000 high school students took the pledge to respect those with special needs and eliminate the use of the R-word from everyday speech.