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New bill changes mental disability language

Supporters of a new California bill believe that changes are critical, changing the words "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" to "intellectual disability. Though the bill doesn't make any material changes to disability services, rights or responsibilities, it does change outdated and offensive language to respectfully meet the needs of those with mental disabilities.

According to advocates for the bill, the former language is outdated and offensive. The Social Security Administration, federal government as well as 42 other states have already made similiar changes. The bill passed unanimously in both the state Assembly and the Senate last week. For those with mental disabilities, "the R-word" can be very painful. It is offensive both to individuals who suffer from a disability as well as their families. It has often been used as a joke or to demean someone and can shape public perception as well as individual self-worth.

Existing California law uses the phrase "mentally retarded" in regulations for educational and social services, state facilities and criminal punishment. Legislators argued that these laws are intended to help and support those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but the offensive language can actually be hurtful as well as impact public interest.

The bill was sponsored by The Arc of California and United Cerebral Palsy affiliates. It still awaits the governor's signature, but if approved, California will join the federal government and the other states that have removed "retarded" from the government lexicon. Replacement would occur during routine revisions to state documents over the next few years.

Many agree that the word "retarded" could be considered hate speech. Removing the language is a step forward for the government and for individuals who suffer mental disability.

Source: North Country Times, "Legislators pass bill to use 'intellectual disability' in state regulations," Joanna Lin, Aug. 28, 2012

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