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TribBlog: Barring the R-Word

Disability advocates want Texas lawmakers to put the term "retarded" in the "word graveyard" with other derogatory terms.

The R-word

Disability advocates want Texas lawmakers to put the term "retarded" in the "word graveyard" with other derogatory terms.

Advocates gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday to support SB 26, filed by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which would require past and future state laws to replace terms like “crippled” and “mentally retarded” with phrases such as “persons with disabilities” or “persons with intellectual disabilities.”

“The term itself, when it was first started, was designed to be very professional and have a good connotation to it, but it digressed over the years, and it’s a term that is used to insult others,”  said Gerard Jimenez, governmental affairs chairman for the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas.

Zaffirini tried unsuccessfully in 2009 to pass the so-called “respectful language” bill. In the meantime, the U.S. Congress passed, without opposition, its own respectful-language bill called Rosa’s Law, which eliminates use of the word retarded in federal statutes. President Barack Obama signed the bill last month.

Several disability advocacy organizations were represented at the press conference, including Arc of Texas, Texas Advocates, Texas Parent to Parent and the Texas Council of Community Mental Health & Mental Retardation Centers, Inc. Following the press conference, the Texas Council of Community Mental Health & Mental Retardation Centers announced that it is officially changing its name to the Texas Council of Community.

In a press release, Danette Castle, Texas Council's CEO, said the decision “is a simple, yet powerful statement of respect and regard for people with intellectual disabilities who want what every good citizen wants: family, friends, a meaningful job and the opportunity to give back to a caring community.”

The word "retarded" became an issue in Gov. Rick Perry's 2010 primary re-election campaign when consultant Dave Carney reportedly used the term to describe debate arrangements. Carney's remarks were criticized by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who called the term “inappropriate.”

Jimenez said he believed that despite lawmakers’ focus on other issues like the estimated $21 billion budget shortfall, Zaffirini's bill should easily pass.

“There are some who may feel like there are other more important issues that should be addressed right now," Jimenez said. "We understand what you’re saying, but we want to make it very clear to you that this bill can get passed but not cost the state of Texas any money."

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