The Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University
 

Rosa’s Law will have profound impact

September 29, 2010 by cpehrson

Rosa’s Law is on its way to President Obama’s desk for his signature.  After passing last month in the Senate and last week in the House by unanimous consent, the law to eliminate the terms “mental retardation” from federal education, health and labor laws will soon be put into effect.

U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who introduced the bill to the Senate, states that “This law is about families fighting for the respect and dignity of their loved ones.  This change will have a positive effect on more than 6 million Americans.”

For Rosa Marcellino’s family in Edgewater, Maryland, the passing of this law is a celebration they won’t soon forget.  Last year, when Rosa’s mother learned that Rosa, who has Down syndrome, had been labeled retarded at school, she teamed up with other parents to introduce a bill to change the terminology in Maryland state laws.  Rosa’s brother, Nick, testified at the hearing before the General Assembly, saying “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.”

Rosa’s Law will replace the phrase “mentally retarded” with “an individual with an intellectual disability” in health, education and labor law. It makes the language in federal law consistent with that used by the Centers for Disease Control, the health arm of the United Nations, and the White House through the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

“I’m pleased that the House has approved Rosa’s Law, and hope the President will sign it quickly,” Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wy.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said. “This bill is simple in nature but profound in what it will do when it is enacted.  For far too long we have used hurtful words like ‘mental retardation’ or ‘MR’ in our federal statutes to refer to those living with intellectual disabilities. While the way people feel is important, the way people are treated is equally important. Rosa’s Law will make a greatly-needed change that should have been made well before today – and it will encourage us to treat people the way they would like to be treated.”

We applaud the Senate and the House for recognizing and respecting the dignity of people with intellectual disabilities. We applaud the Marcellino family for supporting Rosa and taking action on something that will affect people positively for many years to come.

NOTE:  President Obama signed Rosa’s Law legislation on October 5, 2010.

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  • http://www.cpdusu.org/people/aaronandersen/ Aaron Andersen

    While I understand why people want to get rid of the “R word”, I fear that these types of efforts, while well intended, miss the point (and are ultimately counterproductive).

    Rosa Marcellino isn’t being treated unfairly because she is labeled or referred to as “retarded”, she’s being treated unfairly because she has Down syndrome. The English word “Retarded” (which means “delayed”) is fundamentally no less descriptive or more offensive than the newly sanctioned “person with intellectual disabilities”. The taunting, stigma, and bullying currently associated with “retarded” are only so associated because their target–the individual–is.

    Attempts to rid the world of inappropriate behavior through eradicating the words used to describe or power such behavior are very unlikely to result in any long-term positive changes. If the next generation of children like Rosa are everywhere referred to as those with “intellectual disabilities”, the bullying, stigma, and playground taunts used to insult them will merely change to use those words also.

    Instead of complaining about the messenger, wouldn’t it be better to focus our efforts on the actual message? The problem isn’t that the taunting, stigma, and bullying inflicted on Rosa and her peers involve the word “retarded”, the problem is that such things are happening in the first place. I would much prefer to focus our policy, advocacy, and educational efforts on preventing people with disabilities from being mistreated in the first place then on a feel-good linguistic facade that will merely serve to change the word to which such mistreatment is attached.

  • JoLynne Lyon

    Aaron, I agree that the bullying is the real problem. Eradicating it is a bigger and more far-reaching task than changing a word. I also think that if anyone should be empowered to decide what language should be used to describe them, it is the people being described. I have seen many commonly-used words fall out of favor because they were insulting to the people they weere about. I don’t miss those words.

  • Al

    Retarded is a word. Thanks for making it easier for people to go to jail for using words people deem mean and bullying. The word isn’t the problem it’s how people use it.

    Learn how to deal with what people say to you.

  • JoLynne Lyon

    Al, Rosa’s Law will do nothing to prosecute people who use hurtful words. It just changes the terminology used in some federal law. This subject interested me enough that I looked into the CPD’s history as it relates to the R word. I also asked people who have had direct experience with that word for their comments. You’ll find the results in the blog post entitled, “What’s in a name?”