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Respectful Language Victory In State of Washington
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 16, 2004

OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON--Late last Thursday, the Washington state Senate voted 48-0 to pass HB 2663, the "Respectful Language Bill".

The measure requires authors of Washington state laws and agency rules to use "people first" language when writing about people that have disabilities.

"People first" language is a way of describing someone 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.

The new 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. The measure specifically calls on authors to avoid terms such as "disabled, developmentally disabled, mentally disabled, mentally ill, mentally retarded, handicapped, cripple, and crippled".

The state House of Representatives had voted 95-0 in support of the measure on February 12.

The law signals a victory for disability rights advocates, dozens of whom personally lobbied for its passage. Some felt the new language was needed to reflect changes in how society views people with disabilities.

"Well, this isn't the 1940s," Resa Hayes, a 14-year member of the self-advocacy organization People First of Washington, told me. Hayes testified before the Legislature for the bill's passage.

"People with disabilities are people first -- everything else is secondary," she said, echoing the organization's motto.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Thomas Shapley wrote about the Respectful Language Bill and how it was nearly kept from going to the Senate floor for a vote.

"Courage and cowardice in Olympia" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
"HB 2663" (Washington State Legislature)
"People First and Self-Advocacy Links" (People First of Washington)


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