Lt. Gov. Brian Calley signed two pieces of legislation Friday morning, eliminating forms of the word "retard" from Michigan's books, replacing it instead with the words "developmentally disabled."
"It's something Republicans and Democrats could really rally around," said Calley, whose daughter has special needs. "I think it's a great way to kick off a wider agenda to help people with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses because we have a lot of work to do."
There were 15 instances of Michigan laws in which the word "retard was used."
Now that Michigan has signed these bills into law, it leaves only 11 states with the word "retard" in their legislation. The federal government eliminated the word in 2010.
"I think maybe we're playing some catch-up with other states," said Jones, who authored one of the bills. "But we've moved it with record speed once we had it."
Both houses of the state legislature passed the bills unanimously, across party lines.
Calley says he'd like Michigan to use a new "R-word": respect. He signed the bill in front of dozens of students from the Lansing School District who were part of Project Unify, which seeks to bring together those with disabilities and those without to understand each other better.
"To see these kids here that have really come together around this effort and shown the rest of the state, this is how you do it," Calley said. "This is how you bring people together, this is how you be inclusive and it will make a difference literally for years and years to come."
Lois Arnold, president and CEO of Special Olympics Michigan says she can see five years of rallies to eliminate the "R-word" paying off.
"This is really important because now I think it's putting an exclamation point that our leaders in the state and the adults also believe that it's a priority to eliminate the use of the R-word," she said.
But the legislation is only half the battle, Arnold said. The focus now shifts to anti-bullying campaigns.
"If we can teach our students not to use the R-word and the new R-word is respect and then the state government passes a bill like this, it's so important," she said. "Then I think we can begin to work our way to the middle."