"What you call people is how you treat them," were 13-year-old Nick Marcellino's insightful words. While testifying before the Maryland General Assembly, Nick spoke about his younger sister, Rosa.
In 2009 Nick and his family learned that Rosa, who has Down's Syndrome, was referred to as "retarded" at school. Nick's heartfelt testimony continued: "What you call my sister is how you will treat her. If you believe she's 'retarded' it invites taunting and stigma. It also invites bullying and slamming the door on being treated with respect and dignity."
On November 17, 2009 a bill to remove the words "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" from Federal health, education and labor policy was introduced. The bill, which was unanimously supported in the House of Representatives and the Senate, became Rosa's Law on October 5, 2010. As a result, Federal policy would replace formerly used R-words with "intellectual disability" or "person with an intellectual disability".
Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, who sponsored the legislation, reflected on her vision: "Rosa's Law will make a greatly-needed change that should have been made well before today — and it will encourage us to treat people the way they would like to be treated." While celebrating the passage of Rosa's Law, Special Olympics CEO Dr. Timothy P. Shriver stated, "Respect, value, and dignity – everyone deserves to be treated this way, including people with intellectual disabilities."
Intellectual disabilities affect all racial, ethnic, social and economic backgrounds, and can occur in any family. Approximately three percent of the world’s population, or 200 million people, have intellectual disabilities. However the media and very few people acknowledge or even realize the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of using the R-word.
American 8-18 year olds responded to an online survey regarding their experiences with the R-word. 92% of respondents reported hearing the R-word used. 36% stated they heard the R-word used to specifically refer to someone with an intellectual disability.
Respectful language promotes acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. Words such as "intellectually disabled people", "the intellectually disabled", "suffering from" "afflicted with" and "a victim of" focus on pity, rather than on the strengths and achievements of people with intellectual disabilities.
Over the past four decades, Disability Educator and Sign Language Instructor Cindy Powell has advised businesses, employers, government agencies and nonprofits about best practices with people with disabilities.
Cindy provides customized training on the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), tax incentives and other helpful topics, such as disability etiquette and service animals. Ms. Powell also provides customized sign language training.
Cindy has served on local, state and national disability organization Boards of Directors. Ms. Powell was recipient of International Association of Workforce Professionals' 2006 Services to Specialized Populations award. Cindy’s disability articles appear in print and online.
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