McMorris Rodgers, Pocan Introduce Words Matter Act to Eliminate Derogatory Language from U.S. Code

Apr 28, 2023

Washington, D.C. – Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) today joined Representatives Mark Pocan (WI-02), Pete Sessions (TX-17), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL) today in introducing the bipartisan Words Matter Act. This legislation would update the U.S. Code by removing more than two dozen uses of “mentally retarded” from federal law and replace the outdated language with terminology befitting both the 21st Century and human dignity.

“My oldest son Cole has Down syndrome. From the day he was born, I watched as others tried to limit his potential. But for 16 years, Cole has refused to let his extra 21st chromosome define him, defying his doubters at every turn,” said Rodgers. “In America, we are not defined by the condition of our birth, and it’s well-past time the text of our nation’s laws reflect that. The use of outdated and derogatory language in previously written law fails to treat individuals with disabilities with the dignity and respect they deserve. I’m confident the Words Matter Act will prove that our country knows better by bringing the laws of our land into the 21st century and setting a new standard for the way we speak about others in America.”

Cathy previously supported and helped pass Rosa’s Law through the House of Representatives, which struck “mental retardation” from federal law when President Obama signed it in 2010. Unfortunately, it did not remove the equally offensive term “mentally retarded,” which this bill will do to help bring federal law into the 21st Century. 

“This bill just makes sense,” said Pocan. “Federal law should reflect the time in which we live and not include harmful words or slurs. The Words Matter Act will modernize our laws, and remove offensive language from the U.S. Code. I thank my colleagues from both sides of the aisle for joining this effort to update our laws in a manner that is respectful of every American. I look forward to this bill’s immediate passage so we can retire this language once and for all.”

“I am the proud father of a Down syndrome young adult and Eagle Scout,” said Sessions. “Those who know my son regard him as an able, loving, and accomplished young man, whose abilities far outnumber his disabilities. I am confident that the ‘Words Matter Act’ will bring us one step closer to ushering our U.S. Code into the present. While this change is long past due, I am pleased to be a lead co-sponsor of this bi-partisan legislation which amends dated language to ‘intellectual disability’ for federal laws. Those with Down syndrome are a blessing from God and deserve to be respected as such.”

“Words indisputably matter, and I’m proud to be a lead cosponsor of Rep. Pocan’s bill,” said Norton. “My own daughter, Katherine, has Down syndrome. I’m appalled at the thought of someone using the word ‘retarded’ toward her, and it is inexcusable that the word is still part of the U.S. Code. Our country is better than this, as passage of Rep. Pocan’s bill will show.”

The Words Matter Act is endorsed by Special Olympics, Global Down Syndrome Foundation, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD), Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), and National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS).

CLICK HERE to read the bill. 


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