Michigan’s legislators are making positive changes to ensure that state laws regarding individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities include respectful, Person-First language. Currently, Michigan is one of the few states left in the country with laws that still include words like “mental retardation” or “mentally retarded.” Fortunately, 15 bills – eight in the House and seven in the Senate – recently passed, putting us one step closer to removing a word that hurts so many individuals.
The proposals, which we view as a step in the right direction for individuals with mental illness or developmental disabilities, were introduced to coincide with R-word Awareness Day, which was observed earlier this month. In addition, a national campaign entitled “spread the word to end the word” has been put in place to encourage people around the nation to stop using the exclusive, offensive and derogatory terms. Special Olympics also is leading a statewide effort to erase the hurtful word that has no place in our vocabulary or Michigan law – the R-word.
The call to remove offensive language from state laws came from a report released last month by the Michigan Mental Health and Wellness Commission, chaired by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. In addition, changes have been proposed by state and local advocacy organizations aimed at reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness and developmental disabilities.
It is unfortunate that the hurtful words in our own laws have not progressed the way the delivery of mental health services has progressed over the past 50 years. We must be aware of the progress we have achieved in mental and behavioral health services, while acknowledging the areas in which we can improve upon. Mental illness knows no boundaries and does not discriminate. Instead, it can affect individuals of any age, religion or income. The R-word is discriminatory toward the 58 million American adults in our nation who experience a mental health disorder each year.
Removal of the R-word is a huge step for our state, but the ultimate goal is to eliminate the use of the word at large and to see people for the value they provide rather than their condition or diagnosis. As a state and as individuals, we must also strive to advocate for sound policy and to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. We only hope that one day the R-word will not be a part of our language, as it is truly an unjust label that has wrongly defined people for far too long.
It’s time our state shows we value all of our residents. Take a few minutes and commit to stop saying the R-word as a starting point toward creating more inclusive communities for all people. Visit www.r-word.org and take the pledge today.
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