Names are important because, despite the old playground adage that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," words are very powerful. Words can provoke actions and sway opinions; they promote stereotypes and stigmas, as well as understanding and acceptance.
Therefore, it seems ridiculous that organizations devoted to the welfare of those with developmental disabilities have long clung to the phrase "mental retardation" a term long used to taunt and tease on playgrounds. Several county boards of mental retardation and developmental disabilities (MRDD) seem to agree, having dropped the term "mental retardation" and urging the state agency to do the same.
"To put a label on the people we serve, a label they find degrading and embarrassing, is unforgivable," Kim Miller, superintendent of the Union County program, which is considering dropping the term, told the Associated Press.
Christie Lane Superintendent Dee Zeffiro-Krenisky agrees the term is degrading, and said the Huron County board will "consider whether to discuss" dropping it. Not only should they discuss it, but the board should in fact eliminate the phrase from its title.
Some boards have expressed concern that residents and supporters would no longer recognize their organizations when voting for tax levies. But this is not the case in Huron County. Huron County's MRDD board is more commonly known as Christie Lane, so dropping the "mental retardation" term would not make much difference.
Moreover, it would provide an educational opportunity. In Washington County, for example, the board changed its name and has used the publicity to explain its mission.
"We told people that they might think calling someone 'retarded' is OK because that person won't understand," superintendent Mary Ann Chamberlain said. "But they do understand, and they are hurt by it."
The Huron County board will be well served with the name change because it would not affect its ability to pass levies. And, by making it known that a term the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities said once refered to "idiotic and feeble-minded persons" is no longer acceptable, the board would advance understanding of those with developmental disabilities. Sure, perhaps in 100 years, developmental disability will no longer be an acceptable term either, but this evolution is an important part of breaking down stigmas and stereotypes.