Pa. set to jettison 'R' word

A bill striking the word "retardation” from state statutes on mental disabilities will be signed by Gov. Corbett on Monday.

Called "Words Do Matter," it was spearheaded by State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, who said he will be joined at the signing by legislative colleagues and members of the intellectual disabilities community, including the ARC of Chester County. "In Pennsylvania, this new law sends the message that we value the members and the contributions of the physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities community," Dinniman said in a news release.

The legislation, Sen. Bill 458, amends the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966 and renames it the Mental Health and Intellectual Disability Act. Advocates for the disabilities community said that the change is not a move toward political correctness, but rather a step forward for the community that will have a profound effect on how their members are viewed by others, the release said.

"Many individuals in the general public may not understand the importance of this legislation. When we use stereotypic and dehumanizing language regarding people with disabilities, we are prone to then treat those individuals differently,” said Bill Chrisner of the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania. “Negative language leads to negative attitudes and subsequent discriminatory behavior."

Diane Carey, executive director of the Arc of Chester County, called the bill a victory for the community advocates who initiated the the 'Ban the R word " campaign. "As an advocacy organization representing several thousand people with intellectual disabilities and their families in Chester County, we are truly grateful to our legislators for supporting this legislation,” she said.

Dinniman said that Pennsylvania now joins the growing list of states that have worked to change the parlance, including Massachusetts and New Jersey. In addition, last year President Obama signed "Rosa's Law", which mandates that federal statutes use the term "intellectual disabilities" instead of "mental retardation." Already, some county agencies, including Chester County's, have updated their department titles with more appropriate terms.

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