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Freshmen Lawmakers Win Unanimous Approval for 'R' Word Condemnation

A pair of freshman county legislators from North Tonawanda scored an early legislative victory last week when the Niagara County Legislature unanimously backed a resolution that condemned the use of a derogatory term by a local Democratic official.

That resolution, which urged individuals including James A. Sacco Jr., who until this newspaper reported on his use of an epithet derived from the term "mentally retarded," was listed as the Niagara County Democrats' second vice chairman, also required county government to drop use of outdated clinical terms including "mentally retarded" and "mental retardation" to describe individuals with developmental disabilities, and dropped the words from the name of a county agency, the Mental Retardation and Developmental Health Subcommittee.

County lawmakers also heard from a young woman who found callous name-calling by individuals like Sacco hurtful.

Lisa Tribunella of Newfane, a client of Opportunities Unlimited, made an impassioned plea to legislators to pass the resolution, which was sponsored by Legislators Randy R. Bradt, I-North Tonawanda, and Richard L. Andres, R-North Tonawanda.

"No one should ever feel ashamed because they need extra supports in life," Tribunella said at the Legislature's Jan. 21 meeting, which is currently being broadcast on Lockport Community Television. "That is what using the term 'retard' does to those of us with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. It makes us feel different and separate."

Tribunella had strong words for people who misused the term: "Mental retardation is a medical diagnosis, it is not a phrase to knock someone down," she said.

Bradt praised Tribunella's poise and grace addressing the difficult topic, and explained that, while he and Andres had been disturbed by reports of Sacco's abuse of the term, they had introduced their resolution because they wanted the county to "lead by example" and be more business-like in their approach to governing.

"We introduced the resolution to change the board's name because, frankly, the county was at least five years behind the times," Bradt told me. "The term 'mental retardation' is out of date, and it's simply not an accurate encapsulation of the full spectrum of developmental and intellectual disabilities that many of our citizens live with and work with every day. "

"I am an accountant in the private sector, and in the business world, you don't take five years to adapt," Bradt said. "New York state stopped using the 'R' word five years ago when it renamed the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, and we should take a cue from them. It's a matter of best practices."

Bradt declined to directly condemn Sacco's remarks, but offered guarded criticism.

The Legislature stands behind our belief that people who deliberately insult and malign people with developmental disabilities have a lot to apologize for," Bradt said. "It shouldn't require a resolution of the Legislature to recognize the dignity of these individuals in living with and overcoming challenges every single day."



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Jan 28, 2014