TAMPA — On March 1, students throughout Florida participated in Spread the Word Day, a campaign centered around building inclusive communities fostering respect and compassion for all people.

To help schools spread the message of inclusion, Special Olympics Florida created a website called Spreadtheword.global, which has resources, graphics, and materials. As part of the day’s activities, school administrators emphasized the importance of inclusion in their morning announcements while teachers worked inclusion principles into their lesson plans.

“Schools have to be participating as a Unified Champion School with us and we provide them with all the materials they need to run this awareness day on campus,” said Meredith Narayanan, senior director of Unified Champion Schools for Special Olympics Florida. “They get posters so students can come by, sign their name and pledge to include other students throughout the day. They also give them suggestions how to be more inclusive at school and in communities.”

This is the fourth year in which Spread the Word Day has been enacted in Florida. It is part of a larger initiative called Spread the Word to End the Word, which was started by two youth leaders in 2009.

The initiative focused on ending public use of the word “retarded” and encouraged people to commit to using respectful language instead. As the campaign grew, the focus began to widen to a new goal: inclusion for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

This year, Special Olympics Florida worked with 28 Hillsborough County schools and 16 Pasco County schools for Spread the Word Day. The event is to educate students of all ages, so students from pre-school to university were invited to make a pledge and learn about inclusion.

It’s important for children to be aware about inclusionary efforts when they start their education so that by the time they reach high school, it’s not a foreign concept. Narayanan added that inclusion matters because everyone has a voice on campus, people should have their opinions heard and feel a part of the community at their school.

“We’re seeing a greater sense of community,” Narayanan said. “When kids go to school, they’re included and feel like they have meaningful relationships. Really, they’re just feeling like they’re part of their school community by being recognized on campus. Being part of a team is a big deal for a lot of these athletes and students.”

Students and adults can take the pledge at spreadtheword.global and join the 866,000-plus others who have committed to making inclusion a reality for all people.