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Michigan Lawmakers Considering Amendments Removing 'R-Word' from State Statutes

Proposals coincide with "R-Word Awareness Day," observed nationally on March 5 to discourage the use of the exclusive, offensive and derogatory term to describe individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities.

The Michigan House and Senate are considering legislation to amend state laws to remove the "retarded" and various iterations from state law, one of the recommendations of the Mental Health and Wellness Commission chaired by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.
The Michigan House and Senate are considering legislation to amend state laws to remove the "retarded" and various iterations from state law, one of the recommendations of the Mental Health and Wellness Commission chaired by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.

The “R-word” used to describe individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities would be stricken from Michigan state law as part of bipartisan legislation moving through the Legislature.

The House Policy Committee took up an eight-page package that would strike “retarded” and various iterations of the word from state statutes. A similar package is moving through the Senate, MLive/The Lansing News reports.

“Retard is an offensive and insensitive word that has no place in our laws or government,” said Sen. Rick Jones, a Grand Lodge Republican who sponsored one of the Senate bills.

The R-word was removed from federal legislation in 2010 and Michigan is one of only a handful of states that still has the word in state laws.

Supporters of updated language, recommended by a  Mental Health and Wellness Commission chaired by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, say the R-word is a hurtful term that stigmatizes mentally ill individuals and their families.

A coordinated stigma-reduction campaign by state and local agencies and advocacy organizations was also recommended in the commission’s report.

There are critics of the nationwide move to remove the R-word from laws. While sympathetic, Ohio State University law professor Christopher M. Fairman wrote in a Washington Post editorial that cleaning up the language won’t affect much change.

“If the goal is to protect intellectually disabled individuals from put-downs and prejudice, it won't succeed” Fairman wrote. “New words of insult will replace old ones."

The proposals were announced to coincide with R-Word Awareness Day, which will be observed nationally on Wednesday, March 5, as part of a campaign to encourage people around the world to stop using the exclusive, offensive and derogatory term “as a starting point toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people” because “language affects attitudes and attitudes affect actions.”
Lee Jacobsen March 05, 2014 at 12:17 AM
Retard means delay. To start a Model T, one must retard the spark. Like most words, they have multiple meanings. "Bob was a gay lad" can be read two different ways. "Things are working out swell in the expansion business". "That's a cool looking shirt, but on her, it looks hot" Our politicians must have better things to do than play 'word' games. Most folk who would use words in a derogatory way would not be reading the laws anyway, so is this new effort aimed at our lawmakers? They should be smarter than that........
Peggy March 05, 2014 at 07:56 AM
Yes, the word does mean delay. As the parent of a child with Down syndrome and delays, I get that. The problem is people aren't using it mean a Model T spark is delayed. It has become a slang term used in place of a word like stupid, doing something that is beyond reason, etc. Using the "R" word now equates being stupid. It has become an insult that many in society accept. As a parent of a child who would have one day been labeled "mentally retarded", the use now implies she is "mentally stupid" and she is very far from stupid. Yes, she is delayed, but not stupid. The word has changed and I, along with MANY people I know and have worked to educate get this. I agree 1000% with changing the terminology like the majority of other states have along with the federal government. I am happy to have the Dt. Gov. behind this because, having a child with a learning disability, he understands the cringe that hearing the "R" word causes. Today, on "Spread the Word to End the Word" day, like every day, for the sake of my smart, but delayed daughter, I will go out and again, work to educate others and have this hurtful word disappear. http://www.r-word.org/
Joseph Borrajo March 05, 2014 at 09:18 AM
Amen! Intent of a word is the genuine/real definition of that word. Likewise, code words are often used to mask words that are deemed ugly and unfitting for respectful, responsible use in society. Hence, the nuanced use of he word "thug" has come to replace the "N" word. One can run from the words they use, but they cannot hide. P3
Lee Jacobsen March 10, 2014 at 03:34 AM
Thug is pretty much the same as hoodlum, Bully, miscreant, someone dealt from the bottom portion of the deck. Words often define the person, one who swears a lot is not, in my opinion, the sharpest tool in the shed as the swear words fill in the lack of a proper vocabulary to express oneself. Parents are responsible for a child's decent vocabulary, not teachers. Ever watch the national spelling bee? Home schooled kids dominate the competition. Folk with a decent vocabulary are not uncouth enough to use the word 'retard' in a hurtful way. Of course, if one wants to gain attention, say like the Rev Wright, Obama's minister for 20 years, the guy who performed Obama's marriage vows, now there is an exception. God Damn America were his words before the masses, and in a church no less. Ditto for the Rev Jackson and Al Sharpton, both using words to stir up the masses, and cause dollars to fill their pockets as an afterthought, At one time 'friggin' was a very nasty word. Friggin in the riggin was very uncouth. Now, few even know what it means, as it dates back to the 17th century.....a bawdy drinking song, better than saying the actual word it replaces however.....

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