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Fla. Advocates For Developmentally Disabled Urge Lawmakers To Put An End To 'R-Word'

Several advocates and Florida lawmakers are hoping this will be the year that they can get rid of the so called “R-word.”  They’re hoping to get a bill passed in the Florida Legislature that would remove all references of “mental retardation” in state law and replace them with “intellectual disability.”

“We’re here to officially kick off a campaign in our state. What’s that campaign," asked Michelle Poole.

"End the R-Word," exclaimed a group of advocates and lawmakers at a press conference Thursday at the Florida Capitol.

“Ending the R-Word” in Florida is a campaign led by the Arc of Florida, and Poole is the head of the group of advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Her group is partnering with lawmakers, like Republican Senator Thad Altman of Melbourne, to get rid of the word “mental retardation” in state law and replace it with “intellectual disability.”

For example, in state law, it says Florida prohibits the use of the death penalty on a “mentally retarded” defendant. If the bill passes and is signed into law, that would be changed to “intellectually disabled.”

“We didn’t get the bill passed last year, but your support will make a difference and we’ll make it happen this year,” said Altman.

It’s his third year filing the bill, and Altman says he believes the third times the charm for the “Intellectual Disabilities” bill. Last year was the closest he came to getting his bill heard in a committee, but it died in the process.

This year, Senate Bill 142 already passed unanimously in its first Committee stop. But, joined by a group of advocates and lawmakers, Altman says he can’t do it alone as he tries to push this bill through the committee process.

The House sponsor, Republican Representative Janet Adkins, says this is something that should be very straightforward, adding that Florida is behind the times.

“Federal Health, education, and labor policy statutes were changed in 2010 when Congress passed and our President signed into law Rosa’s law. 39 states have changed their laws and it’s time for Florida to do the same,” said Adkins.

And, Moira Rossi agrees. She’s a young woman from Jacksonville with Down syndrome, and says this means she just has trouble learning. But, she says just because she has a developmental disability, doesn’t give people the right to label her with the “R-word.”

“Today, even though I’m an adult, it still happens. People still call me the R-Word. This makes me feel sad and bullied. But, we now have an opportunity to change that with the Intellectual Disabilities bill. Let’s pass this bill and end the R-Word in Florida,” Rossi said, as people cheered and applauded.

Derrick Sneads, another person with an intellectual disability, says he’s just like everyone else, and shouldn’t be subjected to being called the “R-word.” He asked for all Floridians help with their campaign in spreading the word to end the word.

“I work hard. I read the bible. I try my best. The more I learn, the happier I am. Changing the law is very important to me. Please help end the R-word in Florida. People say ‘retarded’ and I say ‘Respect someone.’ Get rid of this R-word and stop this R-word right now," exclaimed Sneads to more cheering and clapping.

The Senate Bill now heads to its second stop, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Meanwhile, its House companion, House Bill 1119, has not yet been heard in any committees.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.