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Sweeney-Vitale Bill Removing Demeaning, Disrespectful Terms From State Statutes Now Law

Will Remove Societal Barriers for Individuals With Developmental Disabilities

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Senator Joseph Vitale to replace demeaning and disrespectful terms for individuals with developmental disabilities in state law with more appropriate, person-first alternatives was signed today by Governor Christie.

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

“For New Jerseyans living with developmental disabilities, words matter,” said Senate President Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem), whose daughter, Lauren, has Down Syndrome. “The fact is that individuals with disabilities are not defined by their disability, but by the strength and character they exhibit in overcoming their disability. This new law will help to modernize New Jersey’s laws in order to remove archaic, disrespectful and hurtful terms which serve to minimize and marginalize the person in favor of their disability.”

The measure (S-1982) will 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 will 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.

“This is matter of fairness and respect for people who’ve had to overcome a lot in their lives to prove the myths about developmental disabilities wrong,” said Senate President Sweeney. “People living with developmental disabilities are just as capable of contributing to their community as anyone else, and we shouldn’t disregard the impact that mean, spiteful terms have on these folks. The State of New Jersey should take no part in perpetuating the disrespect and outright discrimination that so many people have had to live with all their lives.”

“Our law books and statutes should not use painful, disrespectful terms which clearly show disregard for the individuals living with developmental disabilities,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex), the vice chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “This new law will correct the mistakes of the past and hopefully foster more respect and recognition for people who have not let their disabilities define them.”

The bill was approved in both houses of the Legislature in June.

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