Names as bad as sticks and stones sometimes

Published 12:14 am Sunday, June 14, 2009

What’s in a name? Well, a lot if that name has a negative connotation and promotes stereotypical treatment.

I probably hadn’t been in The Tribune newsroom a week when I got the assignment.

“Hey, you need to cover this mental retardation board event,” the editor said.

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I was almost speechless. I couldn’t believe my boss was asking me to do that using such negative and cruel language.

Well, I later found out that he had used the correct terminology and that this was the proper designation for the Lawrence County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

But it just never felt right to me.

And if Ohio’s lawmakers have their way no one else will ever have to face this issue again.

Senate Bill 79 — commonly called the “Name Change Bill” — was recently passed unanimously by the Ohio House of Representative. The law goes back to the Senate for final approval next week because of some minor changes.

This law would strike the words “mental retardation” from the state agency bearing those words and also all 88 county boards.

Paul Mollett, superintendent of the county MRDD board, said that for many parents and self-advocates this is “like a dream come true.”

Mollett said he supports this change for a variety of reasons but chief among them is how the word “retarded” has become a slang insult and really has no relevance to many people served by the board.

Someone could have a physical disability but still be highly intelligent, Mollett said.

“There is no reason to use a title or name that carries a negative connotation,” he said. “ … Our people face enough challenges in everyday life. They don’t need to deal with things like this.”

If even 1 in 10 people find it offensive, that is too many, Mollett said.

But he emphasized that this wasn’t meant as disrespect for all the people who worked hard to create the board or to imply that they were insensitive.

“Let’s not spend all our time looking at people’s disabilities,” he said. “Let’s look at their abilities.”

Having seen these abilities up-close and personal for many years, I can tell you that these men, women and children deserve this change.

It may be just a name change to you or me, but for those personally touched, it is like a brand new day without stereotypes and stigma.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at