Bipartisan bill removes outdated pejoratives from federal law

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., along with Representatives Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., Pete Sessions, R-Texas, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-Washington DC, introduced the bipartisan Words Matter Act in the House to update outdated language in our federal laws.

The act, introduced Friday, aims to “update the U.S. Code by removing more than two dozen uses of ‘mentally retarded’ from federal law and replace the outdated language with terminology befitting both the 21st Century and human dignity.”

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“In America, we are not defined by the condition of our birth, and it’s well-past time the text of our nation’s laws reflect that. The use of outdated and derogatory language in previously written law fails to treat individuals with disabilities with the dignity and respect they deserve,” said McMorris Rodgers in a statement. “I’m confident the Words Matter Act will prove that our country knows better by bringing the laws of our land into the 21st century and setting a new standard for the way we speak about others in America.”

This act picks up on the work of Rosa’s Law, also supported by McMorris Rodgers, which removed “mental retardation” from federal law when then President Obama signed it in 2010, but unfortunately excluded the term “mentally retarded.”

“Words indisputably matter, and I’m proud to be a lead cosponsor of Rep. Pocan’s bill,” said Holmes Norton. “My own daughter, Katherine, has Down syndrome. I’m appalled at the thought of someone using the word ‘retarded’ toward her, and it is inexcusable that the word is still part of the U.S. Code.”

Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers is also advocating for her own son with this bill, saying “My oldest son Cole has Down syndrome. From the day he was born, I watched as others tried to limit his potential. But for 16 years, Cole has refused to let his extra 21st chromosome define him, defying his doubters at every turn.”

The act has received endorsements from the Special Olympics, Global Down Syndrome Foundation, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, Association of University Centers on Disabilities and National Down Syndrome Society.

The full text of the Words Matter Act can be found on Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers congressional page.


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