Gov. Hochul signs bill dropping ‘mentally retarded’ from state use

July 26, 2022

Originally published in New York Post on July 26, 2022.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law Tuesday legislation removing “mentally retarded” as an official term from state laws overseeing everything from alleged crimes to the arts.

“Numerous sections of New York State law [describe] people with disabilities as being mentally retarded. We’ve evolved from that. That is a stigma that we can move away from,” Hochul said at a Midtown press conference.

State laws covering topics like crime, social services, education, the arts and family law are to use “developmentally disabled” and similar terminology instead of “mentally retarded” or “mental retardation,” according to two bills sponsored by state Sen. Roxanne Persaud (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti (D-Westchester).

Supporters say replacing the outdated terminology provide a big boost for developmentally disabled people alongside three other bills signed into law by Hochul on Wednesday, which collectively aim to help people live more fruitful lives.

Some disabled people who need some assistance could qualify for “supported decision-making” as an alternative legal status to being under the official guardianship of another person, according to a legislative memo explaining a third new law.

“We all make better decisions after we make some crummy ones, right? This is part of the human experience and the supported decision making bill is really a groundbreaking bill,” Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon (D-Brooklyn) said of the bill she sponsored with Senate Disabilities Committee Chair John Mannion (D-Syracuse).

The bill signing comes on the 32nd anniversary of President George H. W. Bush signing into law the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

“At the time, Congress found that individuals with disabilities had been historically isolated and segregated, and that discrimination against individuals with disabilities continued to be a serious and pervasive social problem. And while we have made progress, too much of the promise of the ADA has been unfulfilled,” Simon added.

Another new law – sponsored by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D-Catskills) and state Sen. Samra Brouk (D-Rochester) – removes a state residency requirement for a program that helps people save money to cover disability-related expenses like health care without losing eligibility for other social services like Social Security.

A public awareness campaign authorized by a fifth new law aims to fight stigma and stereotypes that shadow people with developmental disabilities.

“These new laws will make our state more inclusive. It will combat stigmas that have long been a part of our culture and need to go away. And it will also ensure that those who need services have a voice in their own care and in their own life decisions,” Mannion said at the Midtown event Wednesday.