Bill Would Have Washington Lawmakers Watch Their Language
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 11, 2004
OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON--Under a law proposed in the state Legislature, authors of Washington laws would have to watch their language -- "people first" language, that is.
"People first" language is a way of describing a person which puts the person ahead of his or her label. Using "people first" language, for example, an individual would be described as "a person with a disability" rather than "a disabled person" or "the disabled". The terminology has been around nearly as long as People First, a self-advocacy movement started by people with developmental disabilities in the late 1970s.
"We need to change the way people are described to be responsive to who they really are, which will change how society views people with disabilities," Emily Rogers, chair of the Self-Advocates in Leadership Coalition (SAIL), recently told members of a Senate committee reviewing the bill.
SAIL members hope to increase the influence of people with developmental disabilities in the legislative process. So far, the group has persuaded 38 representatives and 11 senators to co-sponsor this measure.
House Bill 2663 and its companion Senate Bill 6241 would have authors avoid terms such as "disabled, developmentally disabled, mentally disabled, mentally ill, mentally retarded, handicapped, cripple, and crippled". The law would not change language currently in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) or Revised Code of Washington (RCW), but would apply when new laws are added or the old laws are revised.
"Many of the terms currently used diminish the humanity and natural condition of having a disability," reads HB 2663. "Certain terms are demeaning and create an invisible barrier to inclusion as equal community members."
Kathie Snow, a well-known advocate from Colorado, wrote in an essay on "people first" language: "If people with disabilities are to be included in all aspects of our communities -- in the ordinary, wonderful, and typical activities most people take for granted -- we must use the ordinary, wonderful, typical language used about people who don't have disabilities."
Summary Page for Senate Bill 6241 (Washington State Legislature)
"Self-Advocacy Links" (People First of Washington)
"People First Language" By Kathie Snow (Disability Is Natural)