Press Release from Senator Mikulski (11/17/09):
SENATOR MIKULSKI INTRODUCES BILL TO STRIKE TERMS “MENTAL RETARDATION” AND “MENTALLY RETARDED” FROM FEDERAL LAWBOOKS
“Rosa’s Law” honors young girl whose brother said, “… what you call people is how you treat them.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski today introduced “Rosa’s Law,” a bill that will eliminate the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from the federal law books. U.S. Senator Michael B. Enzi (R-Wyo.), Ranking Member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is the Republican sponsor of the bill.
Under Rosa’s Law, those terms would be replaced with “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability” in federal education, health and labor law. The bill does not expand or diminish services, rights or educational opportunities. It simply makes the federal law language consistent with that used by the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the President of the United States, through his Committee on Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities.
Rosa’s Law replicates a law recently adopted in Maryland. Senator Mikulski first heard about the state law from Rosa’s mother during a roundtable discussion about special education held in Edgewater, Maryland. Due to requirements in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), each student who receives special education services at public schools has an individualized education program (IEP) that describes the student’s disability and the special education and services that child will receive. Rosa has an intellectual disability – Downs Syndrome – and so was designated as a student with “mental retardation” in her IEP, giving way to people at the school referring to Rosa as retarded. Senator Mikulski promised Rosa’s mother that if the bill became law in Maryland, she would take it to the floor of the United States Senate.
“This bill is driven by a passion for social justice and compassion for the human condition,” said Senator Mikulski, a senior member of the HELP Committee. “We’ve done a lot to come out of the dark ages of institutionalization and exclusion when it comes to people with intellectual disabilities. I urge my colleagues to join me to take a step further. The disability community deserves it. Rosa deserves it.”
“Mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” are terms commonly used in federal laws, including the Individual With Disabilities Education Act, the Higher Education Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
“We know now that words have meaning, sometimes far beyond what we intend,” added Senator Enzi. “Therefore, we must be very careful about the way we describe the people we see every day, including those with disabilities, or those who are undergoing treatment for a variety of health issues. Unfortunately, the federal government has not dropped this term from our laws and it still appears in the regulations and statutes that come before our legislative bodies and our courts. I am pleased to have this opportunity to join my colleague from Maryland, Senator Mikulski, in introducing Rosa’s law. I would like to thank her for her leadership and her commitment on this issue. Simply put, this legislation will make an important change in the words we use to refer to those with intellectual disabilities. It is a much needed change in the law that is fully deserving of our support.”
When Rosa’s Law was being considered by the Maryland General Assembly, Rosa’s 13-year-old brother, Nick, successfully testified on her behalf for a substitution of mentally retarded with intellectual disability. He explained, “Some people say they are just words, and it’s not going to make a difference if we just change the words. Some say we shouldn’t worry about the words, just the way we treat people. But when you think about it, what you call people is how you treat them! If we change the words, maybe it’ll be the start of a new attitude towards people with intellectual disabilities. They deserve it.”
“Senator Mikulski’s bill is a most welcome and necessary step in ending the pervasive discrimination against the 7 million people living with intellectual disabilities in this country,” stated Peter V. Berns, the Chief Executive Officer of The Arc of the U.S. “With federal adoption of the term ‘intellectual disability’ perhaps our society and others will begin to understand the legitimacy of the condition and treat those living with it in a more respectful fashion.”
The Arc is the world’s largest community based organization of and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It provides an array of services and support for families and individuals and includes over 140,000 members affiliated through more than 780 state and local chapters across the nation. The Arc is devoted to promoting and improving supports and services for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Rosa’s Law has garnered support from six additional cosponsors from both sides of the aisle, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Senator Lamar Alexander (R- Tenn.), Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), as well as more than 30 national organizations to date: http://mikulski.senate.gov/_pdfs/Press/Organizations.pdf.
A copy of the Dear Colleague letter circulated by Senators Mikulski and Enzi is available here: http://mikulski.senate.gov/_pdfs/Press/RosasLawDearColleageLetter.pdf.
Senator Mikulski’s full floor statement is here: http://mikulski.senate.gov/Newsroom/PressReleases/record.cfm?id=319975.