Offensive Language Struck From Disability Department

The New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) changed their name in 2010, however, many state laws still refer to them as “the office of mental retardation and developmental disabilities” (OMRDD).

The OPWDD changed their name on July 13, 2010 because of “years of advocacy efforts by people receiving services, their families, provider agencies and staff.” Only the mental hygiene law has changed the reference of the OMRDD to OPWDD. However, article 15 of the mental hygiene law, which references laws regarding education for those with developmental disabilities, still uses this language, with the title of the article stating “Admission of the Mentally Retarded To Schools.”

In an attempt to amend this, the New York State Senate unanimously passed a bill on March 25 in order to correct the references of the OPWDD in other state laws. 

The bill will amend the election law, the executive law, state finance law, transportation law, public authorities law, public health law, public lands law, education law, social services law, cooperative corporations law, the elder law, correction law, criminal procedure law, the family court act, the facilities development corporation act, medical care facilities, finance agency act and the administrative code of the city of New York to ensure that they no longer reference the OPWDD as OMRDD.

The bill was sponsored by Senator James Skoufis (D-Hudson Valley) and has since been introduced to the assembly and is currently in committee.

“The goal of the name change from the OMRDD to the OPWDD was to put the focus on the person, as opposed to their disability,” Skoufis said in a press release. “This bill makes corresponding changes in all of New York State laws. It is long past time for the state to remove this outdated and offensive language from other sections of state law.”

Two versions of this bill have been introduced previously to the senate and assembly in the 2017-2018 legislative session, but did not become a law. 

Jennifer Russo, a third-year international business major, is the sibling of an individual with a developmental disability and said that this language should no longer be present in New York State laws.

“In my opinion, this language should not be used anymore. Like in many marginalized communities, terms to describe disabilities and identities can have their meanings skewed to have negative connotations,” Russo said. “In recent history, the term ‘retarded’ has become an insult towards people without mental disabilities. As words are ever-changing and evolving, so should laws and rhetoric.”