Senator’s Historic Legislation Joined by First Bill in Pa. House of Representatives

HARRISBURG (March 2) – State Senator Andy Dinniman said his initiative to strike the phrase “mental retardation” from state statutes and state use is gathering steam throughout the Commonwealth after a Wednesday press conference that recounted all the new and different initiatives with that common goal.

State Senator Andy Dinniman and state Rep. Jake Wheatley discuss their efforts to strike the “R” word from official and common usage.

On Wednesday, state Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) discussed his House Bill 789, the first bill on the matter introduced within the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, according to the ARC of Pennsylvania. Senator Dinniman introduced Pennsylvania’s very first “Words Do Matter” bill, in July 2010. In February, he reintroduced the bill.

“I am proud to have introduced Pennsylvania’s first bill to strike the ‘R’ word. More and more, people realize that words do matter when we are talking about individuals with intellectual disabilities,” Dinniman said. “More and more, governments realize that we reflect our values, we reflect our attitudes and sometimes we even reflect our discriminations by the words that we use. … They also realize that when we change our words, we change our attitudes about others.”

Senator Dinniman’s bill, Senate Bill 458, specifically seeks to amend the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966 to rename it the Mental Health and Intellectual Disability Act of 1966. He said he is choosing to amend this act because it controls what term the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare formally uses for those with intellectual disabilities.

Dinniman and Wheatley together listed the various successful and continuing initiatives that join their respective bills in attempting to strike the “R” word from official and common usage.

  • In March, 2010, Chester County struck from its use the word “mental retardation”.
  • In October, President Obama signed “Rosa’s Law”, which mandates that federal statutes use the term “intellectual disabilities” instead of “mental retardation.”
  • New Jersey passed a law in August mandating that it no longer use the term “mental retardation.” Massachusetts made the change in 2008.
  • 160,000 individuals have pledged to no longer use the “R word” through the website
  • Governor Corbett issued a proclamation that declares this month as “Intellectual Disability Awareness Month” in Pennsylvania. The proclamation specifically mentions use of the proper terminology.

For more information contact Senator Dinniman’s Harrisburg Office at (717) 787-5709, or via e-mail at


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