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A Small Victory For People With Mental Disabilities

Recently, people with mental disabilities won a small but important victory—Congress finally passed Rosa’s Law. When President Obama signs the bill into law, as he is expected to do soon, references to “mentally retarded individuals” and “mental retardation” will disappear from U.S. law. In their place will be “individuals with intellectual disabilities” and “intellectual disability.”

It seems like a trivial change, but words matter. And the “r word” is particularly offensive, as reactions to Obama’s and Rahm Emanuel’s use of the word demonstrated. A 2003 (non-scientific) BBC poll even found it to be the most offensive disability-related word.

The government still inappropriately uses some anachronistic words—the Census, for example, included the term “negro,” arguing that older African Americans might still identify themselves that way. Rosa’s Law is progress.

Just ask Nina Marcellino, eight-year-old Rosa’s mother. In an interview with ABC News:

"It was more than words to us," she said. "We all felt like you cannot separate what you call people from how you treat people. Attitudes have been changing and everybody felt that with a new term, it was a new beginning."