Disability rights advocates praise bill to remove offensive word from administrative code

Public hearing Tuesday in Senate committee
Disability rights advocates praise bill to remove offensive word from administrative code

People in the disability rights community said a proposal to remove an offensive word from state regulations is long overdue.

The phrases “mentally retarded” and “mental retardation” were removed from Wisconsin state statutes under a law in 2011, but state Rep. John Jagler realized the phrases still appeared in Wisconsin administrative rules and the Wisconsin Administrative Code. He is hoping to change that with a proposal he authored with state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald.

“For reasons that I think are pretty obvious to those of us in the disability community, the term is outdated. ‘Mental retardation’ is outdated,” Jagler said.

Jagler, who counted 87 times in which the word was used in administrative rules, said the issue is personal to him as he has a 21-year-old daughter who has Down syndrome.

Can you believe it’s 2019 and the r-word still appears in Wisconsin administrative rules and the administrative code? Disability rights groups support a bipartisan bill from Rep @JohnJagler and @SenFitzgerald to replace the word with the phrase “intellectual disabilities.”

— Rose Schmidt (@RoseSchmidtTV) February 19, 2019

Patrick Ryan, a board member of GiGi’s Playhouse in Madison, can’t help but smile as he talks about his 10-year-old daughter, Grace, who also has Down syndrome.

“We could not imagine our life without our daughter Grace,” Ryan said, calling her “the light of our life.”

He said many people grew up hearing the word “retarded,” but he is hoping a conversation can make the difference in awareness.

“We still see (the R-word) too much in lots of places in society, and it’s still somewhat accepted in lots of circles,” Ryan said.

The Senate Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection held a public hearing on the bill Tuesday.

As he testified before the committee, Lincoln Burr, CEO of the Disability Service Provider Network, said the word should have been removed many years ago.

“Frankly, I’ve been in the business for 25 years. We haven’t ever used that word. We call it the ‘R-word,’ and there’s a reason,” Burr said.

He said it was heartbreaking to hear from families who have heard the word directed at them in a derogatory way.

“It happens today, and we can’t stop that, but we can stop this. We can take it out of regulation, we can take it out of statute, and I think this is an important step toward where we need to be,” Burr said.

The committee chairman, state Sen. Duey Stroebel, said the committee will vote on the measure in an executive session soon.

In the state Assembly, the bill was referred to the Committee on State Affairs.

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