LINCOLN — Lynn Redding grew up having the R-word flung in her face.
In high school, she heard it every day from her classmates.
After high school, she heard it from her support staff, the people whose job it was to help her with daily living and work skills.
But at 32, Redding has found her voice and started speaking out against what has become known as the R-word.
On Wednesday, she asked Nebraska lawmakers to drop that label — retardation — from the state law books.
“It's awfully difficult to improve the image of people with intellectual disabilities and our society's assumptions about them when our law relies on those labels,” the Wood River woman said.
Redding and others spoke in support of a proposal to replace “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” throughout Nebraska law.
Legislative Bill 343 was introduced by State Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln, who works in the developmental disability services field.
Coash said some people have asked him why the change matters. He said they call it “just words.”
But “retardation” and “retard” have acquired negative meanings in society, he said.
“If you've been at the other end of a word, you know it hurts,” he said.
Changing the law would not stop bullying, Coash said, but it would show people with intellectual disabilities and their families and friends that “the state has their back.”
He compared LB 343 to earlier legislation that removed words such as “idiot,” “imbecile” and “moron” from Nebraska law.
At one time, all were commonly used by professionals and others to refer to people with intellectual disabilities.
The phrase “mental retardation” shows up in many different laws, including laws on the death penalty, annulment of marriage and the licensing of what are now called intermediate care facilities for the mentally retarded.
Jodi Fenner, director of the Developmental Disabilities Division of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, backed the proposal.
Sherri Shaffer, a Grand Island woman, said the R-word has been used to label her and hold her back.
“This label gives the impression that my abilities are limited, but the truth is I can do many of the same things that other people are capable of doing, sometimes even more,” she said.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill but planned to vote on advancing it next week.
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