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DBHDS Press Releases

For Immediate Release:  March 30, 2009
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DMHMRSAS Commissioner Encourages Others to Consider their Use of the "R-Word"
National advocacy day works to eliminate derogatory use of “retarded” in casual conversation

Richmond – March 31, 2009 marks a national day to bring an end to the use of the “R-word” in casual conversation. Led by the Special Olympics, “Spread the Word to End the Word” is meant to encourage people to stop using forms of the word “retarded” in a derogatory manner that is offensive to individuals with intellectual disabilities, their families and others.

“People often use the word ‘retarded’ or ‘retard’ in casual conversation without realizing how hurtful it can be to individuals with intellectual disabilities,” said DMHMRSAS Commissioner James Reinhard, M.D. “The use of ‘retarded’ in a derogatory sense contradicts remarks of families who say their special needs family member lives a fulfilled life and is a source of joy and inspiration to others. I hope people will take this occasion to consider the prejudicial and inaccurate nature of this word.”

In the 2009 Session, the General Assembly passed legislation to change the name of the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. The new name eliminates the term retardation, more broadly reflects the department’s mission, and allows flexibility to grow into other service areas, like autism. The name change will be effective on July 1, 2009.

“Although our department’s name is not intended to be disparaging, the use of the term retarded is out of date and insensitive to individuals with intellectual disabilities,” said Reinhard. “We are grateful to the General Assembly and the many advocates who supported this name change.”


Available to citizens statewide, Virginia’s public Behavioral Health and Developmental services system is comprised of 40 community services boards (CSBs) and 16 state facilities. DMHMRSAS seeks to promote dignity, choice, recovery, and the highest possible level of participation in work, relationships, and all aspects of community life for individuals with mental health, mental retardation or substance abuse disorders.

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