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Bill to replace 'mental retardation' with 'intellectual disabilities' sent to Governor

Brittany Norman, a 25-year-old Tallahassee woman with down syndrome, had a message for Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday: "Sign the bill." She was referring to SB 142, which replaces the words mental retardation with intellectual disability in state law. Norman was in the House gallery when the bill passed by a vote of 119-0 -- it already clinched a unanimous vote in the Senate so it's headed to the governor.

Norman said she hopes changing the word in state law will help change the names people call her. She wiped away tears as she recalled being called "retard" and "ugly." 

"It makes me sad," she said.

Norman was one of several people with disabilities who spoke in legislative committees to support the bill. Seeing such support made her feel "happy," Norman said.

Michele Poole, president of The Arc of Florida said federal health, education and labor policy statutes were changed in 2010 when Congress passed and President Obama signed Rosa’s Law. Thirty-nine other states have made similar changes to their state laws.

“We launched the 'End the R-word' in Florida campaign after so many people we serve asked for a change,” Poole said.

The Arc had its own name changes. Formerly the Association for Retarded Citizens, the group is now just The Arc, not an acronym. 

The use of mental retardation has gone from a medical diagnosis to a hurtful term, Poole said.

This is the third year that Sen. Thad Altman (R-Rockledge) has tried to get this bill passed. The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, was replaced by the Senate version.

“Thank you Sen. Altman, Rep. Adkins and the entire Legislature,”  Norman said after the vote. “You are my heroes.”

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