(Legislator MaryJane Shimsky at podium, behind her L to R: Stacy Osborne, President, GROW Inc.;Board Vice Chair Nancy Barr; Michael Orth, Commissioner, Dept. of Community Mental Health; Shari Ascher, Director of Policy & Programs for Small Business and Chambers of Commerce; Evan Latainer, Director, Westchester County Office for People with Disabilities; Carin Horowitz, Chair, Westchester County Advisory Council on People with Disabilities;Michael Gilberg, member, Advisory Council on People with Disabilities)

White Plains, NY — On Monday night, the Board of Legislators unanimously passed a measure removing archaic and offensive language referring to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities from the County Charter.

Long-standing language in the County Charter, including sections establishing the County's Department of Community Mental Health, referred to "mental retardation" and "the mentally ill," among other archaic and offensive terminology. The new language will be person-centered, referring instead to “individuals with mental illness” and “individuals with developmental disabilities” (IDD). Changes are also being made to language related to people dealing with substance abuse and other addiction issues.

At a Monday morning press conference, Legislator MaryJane Shimsky, who introduced the legislation, said, "Words matter...especially when those words are the fundamental building blocks of our government’s actions and practices. There are places in the County Charter that refer to ‘the mentally retarded.’ Such phraseology is unjust, it's cruel, it's unfair. State and federal governments have already taken care of this in their laws years ago, so it's past time that we took this action. People are not their disabilities. The new, person-centered language will put the emphasis on people's humanity."

Vice Chair Nancy Barr said, "I find it unbelievable that it has taken until 2022 to make these changes to the County Charter. Words matter. If we don't have the proper language in our laws, we're sending the message that they don't matter, and that's simply not true.”

Michael Orth, Commissioner of the County's Department of Community Mental Health, said, "In the mental health, addiction and developmental and intellectual disabilities field, we have seen how language can be used to limit, shame, blame, marginalize and dehumanize people. This has led to creating myths, false perceptions, negative bias, stereotyping, or blaming of individuals, and also, unfortunately limits access and opportunities. Using person-centered language is about dignity, worth, and the unique strengths and qualities of every individual in Westchester County. I applaud the leadership of our Board of Legislators to make this change."

Stacy Osborne, President of GROW Inc., a family organization that advocates for those with developmental disabilities, said, "I told my board that I was coming here today for R and R -- and by that I meant the retirement of the R-word. Those with IDD, when we refer to them, they're our neighbors, our siblings, our children, and really the only R-word we should use when we're discussing them is 'respect.'"

Evan Latainer, Director of the Westchester County Office for People with Disabilities, said, "This is a time when we're looking to change how the disabled community is viewed and ensure that people with disabilities are treated fairly, and so words matter."

Carin Horowitz, Chair of the County's Advisory Council on People with Disabilities, said, "On behalf of the Council, we're so thankful to Legislator Shimsky for bringing forth this very important change in our local law, which may seem small but as has been mentioned, words matter. These changes reflect concern for the dignity and respect that all people deserve."