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'Mental Retardation' Dropped from MO Agency Name - More Changes Coming?

November 10, 2008

Jefferson City, MO - Advocates have won a 10-year battle to get the term "mental retardation" out of the name of a state agency. Now they say they're turning to the next battle - encouraging the use of respectful language in all Missouri laws.

Governor Matt Blunt recently signed an order changing the name of the Division of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities to the Division of Developmental Disabilities. Before the change, Missouri was one of just seven states that continued to use the term in official titles.

Self-advocate Cathy Enfield played a big role in getting this executive order passed. She joined forces with the membership of People First of Missouri and other advocacy groups. When she was a baby, doctors told Cathy's parents she should be institutionalized – but today, she sits on several state and national boards as an active advocate for people with disabilities. She says the word "retard" is hurtful. Cathy's father Richard helps Cathy share her point.

Cathy: "It's not a nice thing to say." Richard: "It's not a nice thing to say." Cathy: "It was hard to do because people didn't want to change it." Richard: "She said it was hard to do because there were people who didn't want to change it."

Cathy Brown, a legislative liaison with the Missouri Planning Council for Developmental Disabilities, says the name change has no impact on the funding or function of the division. She says the state of Missouri is finally listening to the people it serves, and adds that the name change is not just about a word, it's about respect.

"The time for stigmatizing labels has passed. It's time to move past that and to embrace every member of every community as an equal and important member of society and the state of Missouri."

Meanwhile, the march goes on for Enfield. She is helping to introduce two bills in the state legislature in January: the first would change the title handicapped parking to accessible parking; the second would encourage the use of respectful language in all state laws and statues.

For more information, go to www.mpcdd.com.

Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MO