LANSING, Mich. (WOOD/AP) — The terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” will be removed from state laws under legislation that has unanimously passed the state Senate and House.
The bills passed Wednesday incorporate a recent recommendation from a mental health commission appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder. The bipartisan legislation strikes references to language such as “retarded” from various statutes and replaces them with terms such as “developmentally disabled” or “intellectually disabled.”
That is welcome news to many across the state, including Laura LaMore.
“To have a dignified life with a derogatory label is really not the choice we would have made. So the irradiation of that language is value added,” she said.
LaMore’s son Benjamin was born with Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome. Part of the way that condition has affected him means he cannot talk.
But that has never stopped people from launching words at him — often unkind words.
“For this to be able to be removed for the benefit of individuals that don’t have their own voice, it’s about time,” LaMore said. “We are not the same generation of community that we were when those terms were established.”
West Michigan Senator Mark Jansen (R-Grand Rapids) was one of the sponsors of the bill.
“We’re trying to respect some folks who are not like everybody else,” Jansen said. “This is a community that has said these are folks that we want to respect and honor them. And this dishonors them and we want to bring dignity back to them.”
Many people spoke out on the issue — both for and against the legislation — when 24 Hour News 8 posted the story online. Many wondered whether it was worth the time and money to make the change in the verbiage of Michigan laws.
“These are good comments and questions. Again, we have a staff, we have them doing a lot of things in our offices and this happens to be apart of their regular job. So did it cost us anything? Yes, because we have a staff that does legislative work all the time because that is what we do. Did it cost us any more than normal? No,” Jansen said.
LaMore also found the changes necessary.
“Language matters,” LaMore said. “Eradicating that and taking it away from our common acceptable place really starts that vision [that] everybody’s human and everybody deserves that dignity to be able to do that.”
She also hopes that by changing the wording in Michigan law it will set an example for others that words like ‘retarded’ are no long acceptable.
“I completely hope it has a ripple effect,” LaMore said. “Even more so than that, I hope it has a wave effect. By bringing this type of thing to the forefront … it really gives a voice to people that don’t have a voice.”
LaMore said she thanks those who had a role in the law change.
“Hats off to those who are in those seats of power and influence to be able to do that. And to families, don’t stop being a voice for your kids. They deserve it,” he said.
Special Olympics Michigan says Michigan is among just a handful of states not to have already passed such legislation. President Barack Obama signed a law in 2010 requiring similar changes in federal law.
The legislation’s expected on Snyder’s desk shortly.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.