Gov. Jay Nixon today signed legislation making several changes for disability rights. Among their provisions, House Bills 555 and 648 remove the term "mental retardation" from state statutes and designate October as Disability History and Awareness Month.
"More than 100,000 Missourians have an intellectual or developmental disability, and many more have a family member with a disability," Gov. Nixon said. "This legislation helps to ensure that, as a state, our words, actions and laws do not promote discrimination. Words that are hurtful or hateful have no place on our books or in our hearts. This legislation is about dignity, practicality and the need to ensure access and equality for Missourians with disabilities."
House Bills 555 and 648 replace the term "mental retardation" with "intellectual disability" from numerous state statutes. They also change the name of the state's Division of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities to the Division of Developmental Disabilities. Gov. Nixon signed the legislation at Paraquad Independent Living Center, one of the largest non-residential independent living centers in the nation. Paraquad serves more than 4,000 people in the St. Louis area.
"Public attitudes are still a major problem facing people with disabilities," said Robert Funk, CEO of Paraquad. "These new laws are an important step in making a positive change in attitudes by, among other things, increasing the rights of parents with disabilities and increasing awareness of civil rights for people with disabilities."
In addition to designating October as Disability History and Awareness Month, this legislation allows school districts to direct their schools to provide disability instruction during this time.
"Teaching children in K-12 about disability not only begins to teach them acceptance of people with disabilities, but also helps them see beyond the disability to their capacities and opportunities to contribute," said Colleen Starkloff, director of education and training at the Starkloff Disability Institute in St. Louis. "It's like race and ethnicity. When you can expose young children to promote acceptance of people who are not exactly the same as they are, they're moving toward acceptance of all people within our culture."
The legislation also adds a mental health professional to the MO HealthNet Oversight Committee; makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities when it comes to parental rights; and requires that one in every four accessible parking spaces created or repainted after Aug. 28, 2011 to be 'lift van accessible'.