WASHINGTON – The family that inspired legislation to change the federal definition of mentally handicapped joined Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski and President Obama at the White House Friday to celebrate the law’s signing.
“Rosa’s Law” strikes the term “mentally retarded” and “mental retardation” from the federal lexicon of all health, education and labor laws, replacing them with “an individual with an intellectual disability” and “intellectual disability.”
“Rosa Marcellino — it’s so inspiring to have her here,” President Obama said Friday, highlighting both the 20th anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act and Mikulski’s efforts.
Rosa’s Law was actually signed Tuesday, but the celebration for its becoming law was held Friday, in conjunction with Obama’s signing of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, which provides more access to communications technology to the disabled.
“As one of hundreds of thousands of Americans with Down syndrome, Rosa worked with her parents and her siblings to have the words ‘mentally retarded’ officially removed from the health and education code in her home state of Maryland.”
The story of Rosa’s Law goes back to 2007, when Rosa’s mother, Nina Marcellino, enrolled her daughter in kindergarten at Central Elementary School in Edgewater. To her surprise, the enrollment paperwork referred to Rosa, now 9, as a child with mental retardation, a term neither her mother nor Rosa’s three siblings felt was effective — much less appropriate — in describing Rosa.
Maryland Delegate Ted Sophocleus, D-Anne Arundel, agreed, helping the family excise the terminology through the Maryland General Assembly last year.
But it didn’t stop there. In November 2009, Mikulski introduced SB 278 — Rosa’s Law — and stressed the importance of changing the language nationwide.
In her floor speech at the time, Mikulski said: “I’m almost embarrassed to say it: Our law books once referred to (intellectually disabled) boys and girls as ‘feeble minded,'” she said. “We thought we were being advanced when we changed it to ‘mentally retarded.’ Now 40 years later, let’s take another big step and change it to ‘intellectual disability.'”
“Rosa’s Law is the perfect example of effective citizen advocacy — a family that pulled together for their own and in pulling together they’re pulling us along to a new way of thinking.”
On Friday, the president acknowledged such thinking by further singling out the Marcellinos.
“Now, this may seem to some people like a minor change, but I think Rosa’s brother Nick put it best. … I want everybody to hear Nick’s wisdom here. He said, ‘What you call people is how you treat them. If we change the words, maybe it will be the start of a new attitude towards people with disabilities.'”
“That,” the president said, “is a lot of wisdom from Nick.”