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Changing Disability Language In SD

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Offensive terms referring to people with disabilities are no longer acceptable in the state of South Dakota.


Governor Dennis Daugaard recently signed a bill updating the correct terminology to people with “intellectual disabilities.


These are words most people try to stay away from, “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded.”


Now, South Dakota is joining a nationwide movement to promote respectful language, language changes some parents are relived about.


"As a family, for us for the last nine years, the "R" word was always a big deal for us and for my kids," said Jesse.


Summer Jesse has a nine-year-old son named Ryland, who was born with a birth defect of his brain, affecting facial features and resulting in a smaller head size.


"He wasn't supposed to make it that long, I was told he wasn't going to live that long and he's nine years old now," said Jesse.


Jesse said the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” could be used in derogatory ways.


"Some people don't understand how hurtful it is and how hurtful words can be, you have to be nice," said Jesse.


"We call it the 'R' word," said Brown.


Angie Brown with Children's Care said she's happy to see the Governor recognizing the issue of disrespectful language, something the hospital has been avoiding for quite some time now.


"We've looked away as an organization from really using that terminology a long time ago and promoting more person first language that has more dignity and respect," said Brown.


The new terms to describe people with disabilities are “intellectual disability” and an “individual with an intellectual disability.”


Jesse said her family has encountered many moments overhearing people use offensive words describing those with disabilities and these new regulations will help eliminate that.


While at the same time protecting her son Ryland, a happy boy who loves cartoons and what she calls, her miracle.


"He's learned to walk in a walker, he's learned to communicate with this I-gate system, it's just amazing," said Jesse.


The Children's Care Hospital and School said the passage of this bill is perfect timing for a campaign coming up in March called “National Intellectual and Developmental Disability Month.”


The language change bill eliminates outdated and offensive references in state law for medical diagnostic purposes.


The law takes effect July 1st.
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