A small group of individuals from Athens County recently demonstrated that the government process does work. Through their tenacity, Gov. Ted Strickland signed into law a bill they began.
On July 7, the Governor signed Senate Bill 79, which was introduced by Sen. Jimmy Stewart of Athens County. The bill becomes law 90 days after the signing.
The process began more than two years ago when a group of people with developmental disabilities attended the Athens County Board of MRDD, and said they didn’t like being called “retarded.”
Their personal stories touched the board members and then Rep. Stewart so intensely that the board immediately changed its named to Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities, and Rep. Stewart began the process of changing the Ohio Department of MRDD and all County Boards of MRDD.
“After listening to my constituents, I decided to sponsor this legislation because I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do,” Rep. Stewart said.
In June, both the House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate unanimously passed the bill. The House version of the bill was introduced by Rep. Debbie Phillips and Rep. Deborah Newcomb.
“Every legislator understood that this bill wasn’t about money or politics. It was about the people with developmental disabilities in Ohio and their families,” said Linda Oda, director of communications for the Ohio Association of County Boards of MRDD, which also is expected to be making a name change in the near future.
While Athens County took the lead on the statewide change, other county boards broke ground on this issue decades ago. In November 1990, the Delaware County Board of MRDD dropped “mental retardation” from its name and began doing business as a County Board of DD. Just a couple of months later, Fulton County followed suit.
In the past 20 years, nine of Ohio’s 88 counties made the change to doing business as County Boards of DD. State law required that they officially remained County Boards of MRDD, so that is the name voters would recognize on the ballot.
Many other County Boards of MRDD also wanted to drop “mental retardation,” but were prohibited by their prosecutors, who interpreted the Ohio Revised Code in such a way that would not allow County Boards of MRDD to do business under any name other than the state-sanctioned title. That is why a statewide name change was necessary, Oda said.
Oda said the name change is part of the continuing evolution for people with developmental disabilities. “As recently as 40 years ago, it was considered necessary to house our individuals in institutions, leaving many of them naked because it was easier to keep them clean, or putting people with autistic tendencies in cages to keep them from hurting themselves or others,” she said.
“In 1967, our parents said ‘enough’ and County Boards of MRDD were created to provide the services necessary. But even then, it was politically correct for learned people to refer to people with developmental disabilities as imbeciles or idiots,” she said.
Oda said much of the credit for the passage of the bill should be givens not only to the self-advocates of Athens County, but also advocates for the developmentally disabled throughout Ohio. Many were in attendance as legislators voted on the bill.