Florida To Replace 'Mental Retardation' With 'Intellectual Disability' Throughout State Law

Sep 2, 2013

Derrick Sneed asked the Florida Legislature to end use of the R word - “retardation” - in state law.
Credit Gina Jordan/WLRN

Thirty-seven-year-old Derrick Sneed testified before Florida lawmakers last spring for a new law that removes all references to “mental retardation” in state law. 

“The more I learn about the R-word (the more I want) to get rid of this R-word and stop this R-word right now. It’s very important to me,” Sneed said. “People say retarded – and I said respect someone.”

The term “mental retardation” is being removed from more than 400 Florida statutes and being replaced with “intellectual disability.”

Sneed works for The Arc of Florida - a nonprofit that strives to improve the quality of life for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The organization changed its name several years ago from the Association of Retarded Citizens. Executive director Deborah Linton says what used to be a medical term had become as insult.

“You know, kids on playgrounds – what’s the first thing they call each other? That’s why it’s so important to us to change that term,” Linton said. “It is changed in the diagnostic manuals now, and it’s really a show of respect for the people who had that diagnosis.”

Federal statutes are now being changed to dump the negative wording.

The bill passed the Florida Legislature unanimously and was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

It also provides additional funding to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. A total of $36 million will help pare down a waiting list of more than 20,000 people who need services like temporary care and job training.

Linton says they got the bill passed without hiring professional lobbyists – it was a grassroots effort on the part of people directly impacted by the name-calling.

“I know that the bill doesn’t change what happens everyday on school playgrounds or when people get angry and say things,” Linton said. “But I know that there’ll be parents out there who hear this and they tell their kids we shouldn’t be calling people names. And I do think eventually it will change society as a whole.”