Two state lawmakers this week introduced identical bills in the House and Senate that would remove the term "mentally retarded" from Pennsylvania laws. Legislation authored by Representative Jake Wheatley of Pittsburgh and Senator Andy Dinniman of Chester County would redefine the term "mental retardation as "intellectual disability" in state laws.
"The point is this: words do matter," said Dinniman. "They carry weight and they carry power. It's time that we abandon the use of this archaic and derisive terminology in favor of language that is inclusive and accepted by the physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities community."
Allegheny County changed the name of its Office of Mental Retardation last July to the Office of Intellectual Disability. Don Clark is the deputy director of that office and says nationally the terminology began to change in 2007. Clark says it's more than a matter of perception..."But also describing better that these are people with strengths and can contribute to their community. Many are out holding down jobs, living independently in the community. Some need additional support but many are contributing to their society."
Clark said they support this legislation because language is very powerful..."The words mentally retarded and retarded have some very negative connotations." He says by changing the terminology "it's hoped that this language will allow people to look at people individually and view them through their strengths."
Wheatley's bill has been sent to the House Judiciary Committee and Dinniman's to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.