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‘Mental retardation’ officially removed from MRDD name

IRONTON — It is not what is in their name, but what actually has been removed.

Starting on Aug. 20, the Lawrence County Board of Developmental Disabilities removed the term “mental retardation” from its official title following passage of Senate Bill 79, which subsequently changed the name of the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation and Development Disabilities (MRDD).

The bill was signed by Gov. Ted Strickland on July 7 and becomes law 90 days after that. The bill was introduced by State Sen. Jimmy Stewart, (R-Albany).

Ohio now joins 43 other states that have dropped the medical condition phrase “mental retardation” from their official names. Officials throughout the state were initially committed to keeping the term “mental retardation” around as not to confuse voters by having an understandable name on the ballot when renewal and replacement levies appeared.

Ohio is one of only a few states in which individual county developmental disability boards raise money through property taxes to pay for and provide services for their clients.

With the new name, workers at the county agency say the change has been a smooth one so far.

“It has not been a big transition for us,” explained Ashleigh Williams, Public Relations/Personnel Director for the Lawrence County Board of Developmental Disabilities. “We have had to change our letterhead, email addresses and our signs.”

“So far we have positive feedback,” Williams added. “From the people we’ve talked to the name change has been very receptive.”

The change follows a cycle in how to properly address those with developmental disabilities. Forty years ago, mental retardation was substituted for words like “feeble-minded” and “imbeciles.” Now that has been replaced.

“There was always a stigma attached to having mental retardation in the name. Hopefully changing the name will remove that stigma and allow people to see the abilities of the individuals in these programs,” said Donna Fugett, whose daughter has been an employee at Tri-State Industries for 11 years.

“I think it is a positive change. Developmental disabilities encompass the broader range of people that we serve, while taking away any negative attention,” said Veronica Cameron, a preschool instructor at the Lawrence County Early Childhood Center in South Point.

The Lawrence County Board of Developmental Disabilities serves more than 500 children and adults throughout the county.

Services are provided at the Open Door Schools in Ironton, Tri-State Industries in Coal Grove and the Early Childhood Center in South Point.