BOSTON – The Massachusetts House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill filed by Representative Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland) on Wednesday, which would remove “mental retardation” from the 45 sections of state law in which it appears and replace the outdated and offensive term with person-first language, such as “persons with an intellectual or developmental disability, terminology long preferred by the disability community.
The state in 2009 changed the name of the Department of Mental Retardation to the Department of Developmental Services.
The following year, then-Governor Deval Patrick enacted legislation that sought to replace every use of the words “mental retardation” with “persons with intellectual disabilities” in the Massachusetts General Laws, but the measure failed to catch all occurrences of the derogatory phrase.
“Language shapes understanding. Using antiquated terms to describe people living with disabilities devalues their individuality, their capabilities, and reduces them to a harmful stereotype,” said Rep. Sannicandro, Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education.
H.4021, An Act renaming certain facilities, departments, and references in law and regulation now moves to the Senate for further consideration.
“Person-first language emphasizes the individual, and can help foster acceptance. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and eliminating discriminatory terms from state law will promote enhanced inclusion for the disability community,” said Rep. Sannicandro, who represents Ashland and one-third of Framingham.
The R-word once had only a neutral, clinical connotation for describing a specific type of disability in people under the age of 18, but its negative permutations haven gave rise to widespread stigma. Despite recent advances, people with disabilities continue to seek accurate representation and acknowledgement in many facets of everyday life. Across the country, initiatives to generate greater acceptance for people with disabilities continue to take root. Notably, the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign spearheaded by Special Olympics and Best Buddies calls on individuals to pledge to retire the R-word from everyday conversation.
In 2010, President Obama signed Rosa’s Law into federal law, removing the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal education, health, and labor policy. The Social Security Administration followed suit in 2013, removing the phrase from its official policies and regulations.