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(800) 799-4889


Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and Every Month, Show Respect to all Michigan Citizens

By Mike Vizena


In 1987, President Ronald Reagan declared March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month to increase public awareness of both the needs and the potential of Americans with developmental disabilities. This month, we can reflect on the progress that has been made in the nearly 30 years since that declaration, and on future opportunities for progress.


In March of 2014, Michigan legislators set an example when they passed legislation to remove the phrase “mentally retarded” from Michigan law. The effort aimed to further remove the word from everyday use.


Almost a year after removing the “R-word” from state law, a new package of Senate bills have been introduced to remove the terms “crippled children” or “crippled child” when describing children with special needs. The legislation represents a welcome opportunity to remove offensive language from Michigan law.


The new Senate bills are modeled after the legislation that fully removed the “R-word” from law and replaced it with references to developmental or intellectual disabilities. The newly introduced legislation is another step in combatting the stigma that exists in our state. The bills would change the language the state uses by referring to children with special needs as just that, not as “crippled or afflicted children.”


This legislation is perfectly timed to highlight how far we have come in making positive progress in the realm of mental health. In addition to removing language that is offensive, the legislation utilizes language that puts the person first, not the disability. It is important that all people be recognized as individuals, not by their disability. Disabilities do not define a person.


Combatting stigma is an important part of advocating for the mental health community in our state. Unfortunately, language that can be offensive and hurtful to those with developmental disabilities has long been a part of the American vernacular. The first step in moving away from the use of offensive language is to think about those affected by the use and misuse of certain words.


Use of offensive terminology only serves to perpetuate negative perceptions and stereotypes, and reflects a lack of understanding. This legislation will help to remove the stigma surrounding those with special needs. The Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards applauds legislators in Michigan for continuing to fight for the respect that every citizen of our state deserves.


Mike Vizena is executive director of the Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards.