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.”