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The R Word: Sticks, Stones, and Rosa’s Law

By Daniel Tomasulo, Ph.D.
Ask the Therapist

The R Word: Sticks, Stones, and Rosa's Law“What you call people is how you treat them. What you call my sister is how you will treat her. If you believe she’s ‘retarded’ it invites taunting, stigma. It invites bullying and it also invites the slammed doors of being treated with respect and dignity.”
–14-year-old Nick Marcellino, Rosa’s brother, in testimony to the Maryland General Assembly

Say what you will about New Jersey. Yeah, we are called the Soprano state, and, yeah, everyone in Jersey is rumored to have an attitude. You got a problem with that? But I couldn’t be more proud of its recent legislation.

The U.S. Senate passed the bill known as Rosa’s Law in August 2010, and in September it goes before the House. Terms such as “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” will be removed from federal education, health, and labor laws. Additionally, “a person with a disability” is preferred rather than a “disabled person.” New Jersey passed a similar law in June.

The federal government removed “feeble-minded” and replaced it with “mental retardation” over 40 years ago. It was time for a more positive change.

One Comment to
The R Word: Sticks, Stones, and Rosa’s Law

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  1. How much of this is just the euphemism treadmill?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphemism#Euphemism_treadmill

  2. Every generation or so we change the words we use to describe a condition. Bipolar was once manic-depression. Mental retardation was once feeble-minded, with classifications including idiot, debile, and imbecile. Now we will change mental retardation to intellectual disability (which I prefer over development disability which infers that you can grow out of intellectual retardation). Although I am not against the change and see a benefit in the change to intellectual disability as the “mental” in mental retardation can be confused with mental illness, I also do not think it will make any difference. Idiot, imbecile and “retard” will remain put downs. As the term intellectual disability becomes more common place the term will describe individuals with mild to severe deficits and as people come to identify the new term with individuals then the new term will become a pejorative.

    • The whole point of the change in terminology is so that people with intellectual disabilities and the families of these people to know that when a kid calls another kid a “retard” that it is not referring to the person with an intellectual disability.

  3. A true human society seeks for the uplift of all its citizens. All of us are individual people with various burdens to carry. The burdens do not define us, rather they give us opportunity to express our humanity in our own unique way. As we understand this principle, we come to appreciate each individual as a unique gift to our society.
    Larry and Jo

  4. We need to educating these people call the r-word from the community disabled in the Kennedy-Shriver Organization also Arc can teaches these people get to do understand the disabled are united express to abilities to do Sport Activities also Art Activities.

  5. I used to be with all the Handicaped asscoeations and I thought we got rid of this stigma once and for all. No one here in Toronto uses this word and if they do they are corected. We use the word people, okachenly we may use the word slow learner but other than that they are just people like the rest of us. I am aganst the term retarded, no one should be useing that tern toawards anyone. If I catch anyone useing that name towards anyone. Please donot use it. It is not nice to call anyone that. As I said I am aganst that term.Barry Smith.

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