Committee Clears Sweeney/Vitale Bill Cutting Out ‘Demeaning And Disrespectful’ Terms From State Law

Would Remove Societal Barriers for Individuals With Developmental Disabilities

TRENTON – Legislation Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Senator Joseph Vitale sponsored to strip demeaning and disrespectful terms for individuals with developmental disabilities from state law was today released by the Senate Health and Senior Services Committee.

The senators said that removing references to “retardation” and ensuring statutes conform to a “person-first” wording would help break down inclusionary barriers for residents with intellectual or other developmental disabilities.

“Quite simply, words matter,” said Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem), whose daughter, Lauren, has Down Syndrome. “For far too long, the words used to describe individuals with developmental disabilities have served only to marginalize these residents. The reality is that persons with disabilities contribute greatly to our society. Our laws, at the least, must recognize that.”

The measure (S-1982) would delete all references to the terms “mental retardation,” “mentally retarded,” “idiot,” and “feeble-minded” in state statutes and regulations and replace them with the term “intellectual disability.” The bill also would update N.J.S.A. Title 30 – which deals with institutions and agencies – to replace the terms “mentally retarded” and “mental retardation” with the broader terms “developmentally disabled” and “developmental disability” to reflect the Division of Developmental Disabilities’ services for persons with developmental disabilities, not just persons with intellectual disabilities.

“Schoolyard pejoratives have no place in our law books,” said Vitale (D-Middlesex), the health committee’s vice-chair. “Individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities must be recognized first and foremost as people – their individual disability should not be what defines them.”

The bill was released by a unanimous committee vote and now is poised for a vote in the full Senate.

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