Person of the Week: Marcellinos Celebrate Signing of Rosa's Law

Named after daughter, it ends use of "mentally retarded" in U.S. law books.

ByABC News
October 8, 2010, 7:49 AM

Oct. 8, 2010 — -- It's a playground rule learned in school and used in life: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

Nina Marcellino, a mother of four from Edgewater, Md., says it is a lie.

"It's not true that words won't hurt you," she said. "You can't call someone something and treat them in a different way."

Today, after almost two years of fighting for change, Marcellino and her family -- husband Paul and children Nick, Gigi, Rosa and Madeline -- attended a White House event celebrating the signing of Rosa's Law.

The bill, named after their youngest daughter, ends the use of the terms "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" in federal health, education and labor laws.

"Too many Americans with disabilities are still measured by what folks think they can't do instead of what we know they can do," said President Obama, who signed the measure Tuesday.

The family's battle began when Rosa's elementary school changed the coding on her education plan from "health impaired" to "mentally retarded." The phrase stung her family. Rosa Marcellino, 9, has Down syndrome .

Paul Marcellino said "mentally retarded" is a term that shouldn't be used anymore. "It's just not right," he said.

"I think the term, for most people, just carries with it memories of a time when this population was really disrespected," Nina Marcellino said. "It's a term that needed to go with that whole period of our history."

At the turn of the 20th century, children like Rosa were institutionalized and the prevailing thinking was that they should not interact with society.

Those who were intellectually challenged were labeled "feeble-minded" in federal statutes. By the 1960s, that term was thrown out for "mentally retarded" -- which, at the time, was thought to be a more sensitive alternative.