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Neb. lawmakers may drop term 'mental retardation'

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 20, 2013 at 8:13 pm •  Published: February 20, 2013
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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — In a tearful plea, a Grand Island woman asked lawmakers Wednesday to remove the term "mental retardation" from Nebraska's laws.

Lynn Redding recounted being bullied by her high school classmates for having a developmental disability. She said the bullying got so bad that she had to transfer schools three times.

"Every day I was called a retard," Redding told lawmakers while sobbing. "I was thrown into lockers and having my peers tell me, 'go home retard, you don't belong here.'"

The Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday considered a bill by Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash that would replace the term "mental retardation" with "intellectual disability" in statute.

Coash says Nebraska should join the federal government and more than 40 states in eliminating all derivatives of retardation from laws. Congress approved the wording change for federal laws in 2010.

Coash, who works in the field of developmental disabilities, also asked that laws say "a person with intellectual disabilities" rather than "a disabled person."

Coash said mental retardation started out as a medical diagnosis but over time became used as slang insult for someone who is acting foolish.

"If you have been on the other end of the word, it hurts," he said.

Coash said the state needs to keep up with the most appropriate terminology. If lawmakers didn't update the law language sometimes the state's statutes would be "full of the terms idiot, moron and imbecile" because that is what medical doctors labeled a person with a developmental disability years ago, he added.

Several disability advocates joined Redding to testify in support of the bill, saying the continued use of the term is demeaning and that it's time for Nebraska to stop using it. No one testified in opposition to the bill.

Redding and Coash said making the change would be a great sign of state support of those with disabilities.

Jodi Fenner, director of the Department of Health and Human Services division of developmental disabilities, said keeping mental retardation as an acceptable clinical term encourages youth and others to continue using it.

"They are people just like you and I that deserve to be treated with dignity and respect," Fenner said.

Marla Fischer-Lempke , executive director for the Arc of Nebraska, said her organization, which advocates for people with developmental disabilities, supports the bill. Fischer-Lempke said she can personally relate to the issue, saying it hurt her whole family when anyone would call her younger sister, who has Down Syndrome, retarded.

"I know it seems like an act of political correctness to change the term, but it means much more than that," she said. "It's about social justice. It's about human rights."

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The bill is LB343.


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