Federal Legislation Would Eliminate Use of 'Mentally Retarded' in Government Programs

Most people wouldn't even bat an eye when they hear someone use the word "retarded" to refer to a person with intellectual disabilities. But 14-year-old Nick Marcellino, whose 8-year-old sister Rosa has Down syndrome, got fed up with other children calling Rosa names and he did something about it. With the help of a Maryland senator, Nick and other members of his family succeeded in getting a law passed in his state striking the use of the word "retarded" from state law in favor of the phrase "individual with intellectual disabilities." Now one of Maryland's U.S. senators, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D), has proposed a bill that would eliminate the use of the word "retarded" in all federal programs.

Called Rosa's Law, the new bill would replace the phrase "mental retardation," which is used in many important pieces of federal legislation like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act, with the term "intellectual disability." According to Sen. Mikulski, the new legislation would have no cost and would do a lot to lessen the stigma the word "retarded" places on people with intellectual disabilities.

Rosa's Law follows a string of state laws that have gradually shifted away from official use of "retarded." Advocacy groups have also made a concentrated effort to eliminate the use of the word, which is often used as a derogatory term. For example, the Association for Retarded Citizens is now known simply as The Arc of the United States, and the American Association on Mental Retardation has changed its name to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.. Recently, advocacy groups urged moviegoers to boycott the movie "Tropic Thunder," which uses "retarded" as part of a running joke throughout the film.

To read Rosa's Law in its entirety, click here.

To read an ABC News article about the new legislation, click here.

Article Last Modified: 12/01/2009