A Show of Sibling’s Support

An eighth-grader’s passionate defense of his sister paved the way for Rosa’s Law to become federal law on Oct. 25, 2010.

Bethesda Lutheran Communities presented Nick Marcellino with the 2010 Bethesda Voices Public Policy Award in recognition of his efforts, which led to landmark legislative changes for people with disabilities, first in his home state of Maryland and then the United States.

Rosa’s Law removed the stigmatizing terms “mental retarded” and “mentally retardation” from federal health, education and labor policies and replaced them with “individual with an intellectual disability” and “intellectual disability.”

Marcellino embarked on his impressive journey in 2008 after witnessing the hurt experienced by his sister Rosa, who has Down syndrome, when she was referred to as “retarded” by other children and even in official school documents.

Now a senior at N.C. State majoring in textile engineering, Marcellino says he remembers being surprised by the recognition he and his family received after passage, with assistance from former U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), of Rosa’s Law on the national level.

“When we started working to change the terminology from ‘mentally retarded’ to ‘intellectual disability,’ I only saw the impact it would have on my sister,” Marcellino says. “It wasn’t until Sen. Mikulski informed us she would bring the law to the U.S. Senate if it passed in Maryland that I realized this law would impact millions of people across the nation. Looking back on it, I think the whole thing taught me it’s important to stand up for other people who can’t necessarily stand up for themselves.”

In 2010, Bethesda’s Messenger magazine noted the Marcellino family’s efforts “exemplify grassroots advocacy that affects positive change on a local, state and national level.” They continue to advocate for people with disabilities and will appear in an upcoming documentary about ending use of the R-word.

“Our success with Rosa’s Law sent a message that families and the disability community won’t tolerate disrespect,” Marcellino says. “We forced people to acknowledge that groups of people get to decide what they will be called and that what you call them shapes your view of them.”

Do your part to encourage positive change. Pledge to support eliminating use of the “R-word” and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities on End the R-Word Day on Wednesday, March 1.

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