Arizona Removes “Retardation,” “Crippled” From Statutes

On Thursday, Arizona held a ceremonial signing to celebrate the passage of House Bill 2213, which officially removes the words “mental retardation” and “crippled” from the Arizona Revised Statutes. Governor Jan Brewer had signed the bill back in April and the legislation will go into effect on September 30. The word “mental retardation” will be replaced with “intellectual disability” and the word “crippled” with “physically disabled” in state statutes.

A campaign to end the “r” word initiated by the Special Olympics, has received national attention. Indeed, Special Olympics Arizona alerted Arizona lawmakers to the need to remove the “r” word from state statutes. According to Kate Fassett, government relations and business-development executive for HighGround, the lobbying firm that represents Special Olympics Arizona at the Legislature, “Arizona is the first state in the nation to remove the outdated references,” says the Arizona Republic. Other states such as New York have been changing the names of agencies and departments to use terms such as “developmental disability” and “intellectual disability” instead of “mental retardation.”

A well-established organization, the ARC, still uses the word “retarded,” ARC standing for “Association for Retarded Citizens.” The ARC’s name sounds horrible to many people now but, at the time of the organization’s creation, it was actually considered a progressive: Not too long ago, using the term “retarded” was considered a positive change. In the 1950s, the terms “moron” and “imbecile” were considered acceptable ways to describe individuals like my son Charlie, who’s autistic.

So it’s possible that, in another generation, “developmental disability” and “intellectual disability” could be seen as pejorative. Indeed, the Arizona bill’s sponsor, Rep. Cecil Ash, a Mesa Republican who is also chairman of the House’s Health and Human Services Committee, says:

Times change, and so do the politically correct words over the decades. I heard from several sources that this needed to be done. It’s a good bill.

One of those sources was Former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, whose oldest son Zachary is a Special Olympics athlete, and who mentioned the ceremonial signing (which was not publicized in advance) on his Twitter account:

“Whole family going down to support Gov Brewer’s signing of bill to eliminate the use of the ‘R’ word in AZ… pretty cool stuff!”

“Mental retardation” is still a diagnosis listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV-TR. As Washington University School of Social Work professor Paul Shattuck noted in a 2006 Pediatrics article, while the number of diagnoses of mental retardation (and of learning disabilities) declined form 1994 to 2003, diagnoses of autism rose in the same time period.  I can’t say for sure but, had my son been born in a previous generation, he might well have been diagnosed with mental retardation; today, he’s considered “classically autistic.” Societal and cultural attitudes do play a role in how we label and perceive what we’re now calling “developmental/intellectual disability” as well as various psychiatric disorders. It’s possible that generations to come will find other words to refer to developmental and intellectual disabilities and even autism, as our understanding of these evolves.

Related Care2 Coverage

Tracy Morgan Apologizes By Joking About “Retarded Kids”

Down With the “R-word”! (VIDEO)

No R Word—Except At This New York State Agency

Photo by the author.


Angela Roquemore
Angela Roquemore6 years ago

Considering the number of people worldwide who are still being harrassed for being developmentally disabled, I think this is "too litle, too late."

Jude Hand
Judith Hand6 years ago

I appreciate input from family members. Thanks for the article.

janet T.
janet t6 years ago

As the parent of a retarded child, I do not find that word offensive. As noted, it was a step up from what they used to call it. Intellectual difficulties etc does not always fit. Intellectual difficulties could be autism(where the person could be very intelligent) or ADD( where the person could take medicine and cope) or perhaps dyslexia which some people can overcome it and has normal intelligence. Severely retarded is something that is mental and physical. Microcephaly and growth retardation is one part and not being able to learn is another. I have seen my daughter do things that she should not be able to do. She was so gentle with her younger brothers, playing with them and cheering them when they learned something new. You should have seen the look of pride on her face when her brother was learning to drive a car!! Supposedly she is one year old mentally, but she knew this was a big step for him. And when he learned to walk, she never seemed jealous, though she found walking difficult and later impossible with how her feet are. Sometimes someone who is retarded is beautiful, changing words will not change people's opinions.

Kari J.
Matilda W6 years ago

We also don't use the word handicapped either- that too is seen as derogatory.

Kari J.
Matilda W6 years ago

The word retard is degogatory and this kind of language has been illegal in Britain for over 20 years. We say "people with learning difficulties."

ryan burger
Ryan B6 years ago

Wow, a "RED" stated actually doing something for someone other that the government? Impressive.

Blake W.
Blake W6 years ago

That's retarded. These are technical terms and it is ridiculous to demand their replacement. For example, in my opening sentence I use the term to suggest that in order to support such an idea, one's rationality must be in this instance functionally reduced, i.e. 'retarded.'
People with mental disabilities have intellects whose development is retarded compared to normal people. That doesn't mean we should care about them less but it is a fact.

Jacqueline S.
Jacqueline S6 years ago

These words are in the dictionary and have meaning. If people choose to use them to insult those affected, shame on them. Doctors still use these terms when discussing cases where the PC Police can't hear. They are appropriate words. A rose by any other name is still a rose. When we were little we were taught the sticks and stones ditty, Now they teach lawsuit!

Duane B.
.6 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

LMj Sunshine
James merritt jr6 years ago

Wow something nice.