WEST CHESTER (December 19) – Governor Tom Corbett signed Senator Dinniman’s “Words Do Matter” bill, which strikes the “R Word” from state statutes and state use, into law today.

Dinniman was joined by legislative colleagues and members of the intellectual disabilities community including the ARC of Chester County, the ARC of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Association of Resources, Self Advocates United As 1, Rejoicing Spirits and the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, to witness the historic signing in the Governor’s Reception Room in the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

Govenor Corbett signs Senator Dinniman's "Words Do Matter" legislation surrounded by members of the Chester County intellectual disabilities community.

“The point is words do matter. They carry weight and they reflect our values,” Dinniman said. “And in Pennsylvania, this new law sends the message that we value the members and the contributions of the physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities community.  It shows that we have officially moved past this archaic and derisive terminology in favor of language that is inclusive, accepted, and respectful of all.”

The legislation, Senate Bill 458, amends the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966 and renames it the Mental Health and Intellectual Disability Act. The language change applies to and makes language changes to the entire act’s 34 pages, which define the term and control the Department of Public Welfare’s use of the term.

The bill, which was unanimously passed by both the Senate and the House, was signed into law by Corbett as Act 105 of 2011. It takes effect immediately.

Advocates for the disabilities community said that the change is not a move toward political correctness, but rather a step forward for the community that will have a profound effect on their members and how they are viewed by others.

“Many individuals in the general public may not understand the importance of this legislation. When we use stereotypic and dehumanizing language regarding people with disabilities we are prone to then treat those individuals differently. Negative language leads to negative attitudes and subsequent discriminatory behavior,” said Bill Chrisner of the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania. “Changing the language of the Commonwealth to recognize people with disabilities, and especially those with intellectual disabilities, as people first and equal human beings is a huge first step in changing the negative attitudes that relegate us to a second class status.”

Senator Dinniman tours the Senate floor with members of Chester County's intellectual disabilities community.

“Language plays a crucial role in how people with intellectual disabilities are perceived and treated in society,” said Shirley Walker, President and CEO of Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disabilities. “Whatever we can do to remove stigma is good for all people. Pennsylvania’s legislature recognized this and made a change for the better.”

“This is truly a victory for the self advocates in our community! They were the ones who initiated the ‘Ban the R word campaign’ and successfully raised awareness in the community, including gaining the support of Senator Dinniman to take the initiative to change legislative language with this bill,” said Diane Carey, Executive Director of the Arc of Chester County. “As an advocacy organization representing several thousand people with intellectual disabilities and their families in Chester County, we are truly grateful to our legislators for supporting this legislation.”

Dinniman said that Pennsylvania now joins the growing list of states that have removed the “R” word from official and common usage, including Massachusetts and New Jersey. In addition, last year President Obama signed “Rosa’s Law”, which mandates that federal statutes use the term “intellectual disabilities” instead of “mental retardation.” Already, some county agencies including Chester County’s have updated their department titles with more appropriate terms.

Senator Dinniman introduced Senate Bill 458 just over a year ago after attending an event hosted by Speaking for Ourselves and the Arc of Chester County where participants pledged to refrain from using the words “retard” or “retarded” and encourage others to do the same. Senator Dinniman signed the pledge and introduced Senate Bill 458 in an effort to move past this archaic and hurtful terminology in favor of language that is proper and accepted by the community of those with intellectual disabilities.

For more information contact Senator Dinniman’s District Office at (610) 692-2112, or e-mail acirucci@pasenate.com.

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