Lawmakers look to get rid of 'R' word

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida lawmakers are moving toward erasing the terms "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" from myriad state laws, as the word "retarded" has become widely viewed as offensive to people with disabilities.

"Mental retardation" would be replaced by "intellectual disability," and "mentally retarded" would be replaced by "intellectually disabled." As an indication of how references to retardation thread through state laws, the House is considering a 71-page bill to replace the terms --- which pop up in everything from criminal laws to health laws.

Deborah Linton, executive director of The Arc of Florida, said she has worked for three years to convince lawmakers to eliminate the "R" word and its variations. In the past, Linton's group was known as the Association for Retarded Citizens.

"It was a medical term, and it became an insult,'' Linton said Tuesday after the House Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously to approve the bill (HB 1119). At the other end of the Capitol, the Senate Rules Committee also voted unanimously for the Senate version (SB 142).

House sponsor Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, said 39 states have made similar changes to their laws. A person with an intellectual disability typically has an IQ of 70 to 75 or below, has limits on the ability to carry on everyday life activities and had the disability before age 18, according to The Arc website.

But while advocacy groups have made a priority of changing the terms, two speakers with intellectual disabilities told the House committee Tuesday that they are still hurt by getting called retarded.

"A lot of people have special needs and different personalities,'' said Tyler Creamer, 20, of Panama City "I don't like when people judge us or put us down. I am important."

Members of the committee praised the measure.

"Sometimes the most simple of bills can be the most monumental,'' said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.

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