63 pages needed to scrap 'R word' instances from state's books

2013-04-19T03:45:00Z 63 pages needed to scrap 'R word' instances from state's booksBy JoANNE YOUNG / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash wants people to know Nebraska sees things differently when it comes to use of the "R" word. 

And so he asked to amend his bill (LB343) into another being debated Thursday.

Coash's amendment would replace the antiquated and pejorative term "mental retardation" with a more enlightened and contemporary expression "intellectual disability" in state laws.

It would become part of a bill (LB23), introduced by Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney, intended to revise and improve the operation of the provider tax for intermediate care facilities for people with developmental disabilities.

Hadley said Coash's amendment, which was adopted on a 40-0 vote, made his bill better and more meaningful. The bill also advanced to a second round of debate.

In many chapters of state law, references to people with disabilities are as "retarded people," Coash said. It took a 63-page amendment to catch all the sections that needed to be changed. 

In the 1980s, the statutes were full of terms such as "idiot," "moron" and "imbecile" to describe a person's disability, Coash said.

"We all know what happened with those terms. ... They became slang and they became terms that are used to disparage someone who has a disability," he said.

The terms were changed then to mild, moderate and severe mental retardation.

"Well, what's happened to those terms, colleagues?" Coash said. "The term 'retardation' has also now become slang."

The Legislature has to make a change to ensure that laws represent current values, he said. This amendment is an opportunity that costs nothing to support people with disabilities.

"By adopting this amendment, we will be showing the citizens of Nebraska who have developmental disabilities that we value them, we honor them, and we treat them with dignity and respect," he said. 

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist said the amendment hit close to home for him because he has a daughter with disabilities who has been called a "retard" and other derogatory terms.

"If you define someone by the chair they sit in, whether it has wheels or not, by the disability that they have, rather than defining them as human beings, you are wrong, wrong, wrong," he said.

Many of the derogatory words that refer to people of color and ethnic persuasions have become socially unacceptable, he said.

"This is a hanger-on-er," he said. "This one needs to disappear."

Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont has a son with autism. He doesn't suffer with autism, he flourishes in it, he said.

"So we have got to be very, very careful when we throw out terms, slang," he said. "We've all got to check ourselves."

Sen. Scott Price had a significant speech impediment and hearing loss as a child. In kindergarten, when he didn't interact well, he was put in front of the class in a dunce cap, told he was retarded and taken to the "retarded room."

"I remember that walk down, but more so I remember the walk back when they put me back in the general population," he said. "It doesn't go away."

The Legislature is being watched and being judged by its actions, as it should be, Coash said.

Words matter.

Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com -- You can follow JoAnne's tweets at twitter.com/ljslegislature.

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