A fifteen-bill legislative package passed by the Michigan Legislature on March 5, 2014 seeks to remove the words “mentally retarded” and “mental retardation” from all Michigan laws and replaces them with people-first language that is more respectful and inclusive. Michigan joins 43 other states that have removed the words from their law books.
Senate Bills 805-811 and House Bills 5345 – 5352 were passed unanimously in their respective chambers. Two of the many leaders behind the effort to "End the Word," were State Senators Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) and Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge).
“Achieving justice for those with mental illness has long been a personal priority of mine, and I believe that ending the use of the “R” word in statute is a fundamental first step in the process of ensuring everyone in our state is treated with the dignity and the respect they deserve,” said Senator Warren.
“As a board member and advocate for the Special Olympics, I am passionate about helping those with special needs,” said Senator Jones. “Retard is an offensive and insensitive word that has no place in our laws or government. It costs nothing to replace the archaic language and I'm pleased this common sense bill received unanimous support in both chambers.”
Spearheading the efforts in the House were State Representatives Matt Lori (R-Constantine) Phil Cavanagh (D-Redford Township), who serve on the Michigan Mental Health and Wellness Commission, and Gail Haines (R-Lake Angelus), Chair of the House Health Policy Committee.
“We must make every effort possible to give those with developmental disabilities a chance to succeed, and removing this hurtful language that excludes an entire segment of our population is a huge step in showing the respect these citizens deserve,” said Representative Haines.
“As a member of the Mental Health and Wellness Commission, I am tasked with reducing the stigma of mental disabilities and encouraging an environment where all people are valued,” Representative Lori said. “This change is reflective of our esteem to all citizens and our efforts to be completely inclusive.”
Representative Cavanagh said the word is hurtful to those who have intellectual disabilities.
“Much of society does not recognize the hurtful, dehumanizing and exclusive effects of the R-word. I hope that this will be the first step to reducing the stigma that people associate with those with mental illnesses.”
Other bills in the package were sponsored by state Reps. Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt Township, Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, Pat Somerville, R-New Boston: David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, and Tom Cochran, D-Mason. The Senate bills were sponsored by: Rebekah Warren, Bruce Caswell, Rick Jones, Jim Ananich, Mark Jansen, Bert Johnson, and John Moolenaar.