It Is Time To Eliminate Offensive Terms about People With Disabilities

In December, Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, sent a letter to the York City Department of Education stating, “the City is still not fully compliant, and children with disabilities and their families are being denied the right to equal access to a public school education.”(1) This is not news to people with disabilities. Schools and companies often treat the ADA as a mere suggestion despite its enactment 25 years ago.

Integrating people with disabilities requires not only strictly enforcing the ADA but also changing the perception of those with disabilities. This begins with changing our language. As Rosa’s 11-year old brother Nick said so articulately when President Obama signed Rosa’s Law eliminating the words “retarded” and “retardation” from government language, “What you call people is how you treat them.”

Certain words such as “retarded” are slowly being eliminated from our language, but there are far too many other words that appear to be entrenched in it. People may be offended when inappropriate language is brought to their attention. The perception is that the person complaining is acting as the “politically correct” police rather than that the term used just insulted a class of people. We changed how we refer to people based on race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation, but somehow it appears acceptable to use outdated language to refer to people with disabilities.