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Statement from Special Olympics


Removal of ‘Mental Retardation’ Seen as Major Step toward Greater Respect and Inclusion
for People with Intellectual Disabilities

 The Special Olympics movement applauds the passage of “Rosa‟s Law” by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Labor, Education and Pensions (HELP) as championed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wy.) to eliminate the term “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from laws passed by its members.

 Although originally a clinical term and introduced with good intentions, the term “mental retardation” and the pejorative, shortened “retard” have been used widely to degrade and insult people with intellectual disability and have found their way into common usage. By instead using “intellectual disability” and “an individual with an intellectual disability” in federal laws, the U. S. Senate sends a strong signal that language is important and that no form of the R-word should be used to refer to any of its constituents.

 “Respect, value, and dignity – everyone deserves to be treated this way. These traits don‟t need to be earned,” said Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics. “The Senate Committee„s passage shows that our elected officials understand and embrace this ideal. I congratulate Sen. Mikulski and Sen. Enzi for their vision and sensitivity to people with intellectual disabilities everywhere and urge the full U.S. Senate to pass this important legislation.”

 The bill does not expand nor diminish services, rights, responsibilities or educational opportunities duly owed to individuals with intellectual disabilities. It simply makes the federal law language consistent with that used by the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and the White House through the President‟s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

 Special Olympics has a history of actions to change the way people refer to those with intellectual disabilities. In 2004, in response to its athletes‟ call for change, the Special Olympics International Board of Directors adopted a resolution to update the movement's terminology from “mental retardation” to “intellectual disabilities.” In 2008, Special Olympics launched its R-Word Campaign ( to combat the inappropriate use of the word in common usage and helped lead protests against media use of the word such as in the film Tropic Thunder. And, in 2009, the youth-led “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign launched with rallies in K-12 schools and universities around the country, enlisting young people to combat use of the word.

The legislation has 43 cosponsors from both parties, including 17 members of the HELP Committee. In the next step of the legislative process, the bill will be considered by the full Senate.

- The Special Olympics Movement

 The full text of Senator Mikulski’s statement, as prepared for delivery at today’s HELP Committee mark-up is available here.

CONTACT: Jennifer Brooks, Special Olympics, 202.824.0327; [email protected]