Supporters testify about bill to remove derogatory word for people with disabilities

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- Families and advocates for people with intellectual disabilities gathered at the State Capitol on Wednesday to voice their support for Assembly Bill 20. The bill would remove words like "mental retardation" and "retarded" from state agency documents.

The Committee on State Affairs held a public hearing on the bill.

Marybeth Mielke and her 18-year-old son Brock traveled from Hartland, Wis. to show their support. They said the "r-word," even if it is not directed at people with disabilities, is still hurtful.

"The r-word means bad feelings," Brock said. "It hurts me."

Brock has Down syndrome, but his disability does not stop him from being successful.

"I have a company called brox21.com," he said. "I sell T-shirts and hats and wristbands and socks."

State Representative John Jagler introduced Assembly Bill 20 in February. The bill would replace any instances of the r-word with "intellectual disability."

"It is just a word, but words matter," Jagler said.

Jagler has a personal connection to the issue. His daughter Grace has Down syndrome.

"Being a parent, as I am, of a child with a disability is hard. And when you have a situation where you can do something, so easy quite honestly, to make it a little less hard, that's important to me," Jagler said.

Brock and Marybeth said this bill could help show others that people with disabilities are not different from anyone else, the same way Brock does with his business.

"His logo has a chromosome on it, so when people wear his gear, they too are wearing an extra chromosome like him, and they'll notice that there really isn't any [difference]," Marybeth said.

After Wednesday's hearing, the Committee on State Affairs has to vote on the bill. Jagler's office said they hope that can happen by the end of March.

Governor Evers issued an executive order on Tuesday also calling on state agencies to eliminate the r-word. Evers said he would sign Jagler's bill.