Governor Jack Markell signed into law today three bills that reflect the state's progress in recognizing the importance, inclusion and dignity of persons with disabilities in Delaware. Children, advocates and legislators joined Markell for the signing at the Can-Do Playground at Alapocas Run State Park, a playground built to be accessible to and enjoyable for all children, regardless of physical, mental and sensory abilities.
"Words matter. They do have power. These bills ensure we emphasize people first and disabilities second when we use them in law," said Governor Jack Markell. "People live with their disabilities. They should not be defined by them. The language used in our laws, codes and regulations to describe disabilities have not in the past reflected that fact. It will going forward."
The bills are part of the national movement for People-First Language, which makes clear that a person should be placed before their disability in descriptions (i.e., a "person with disability" not a "disabled person"). HB 91 requires that we ensure that all new state laws, regulations and publications show respectful language for "people with disabilities." HB 214 requires us to look through the language in our current state code and do the same. With those changes in place, HB 123 designates the month of October as "Disability History and Awareness Month," where schools and organizations will have a month to generate greater understanding and education around the issue.
image: group photo
"Civil rights start with civil treatment of all people," said Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, who co-sponsored the legislation in the Senate. "Changing the way we word our laws may not seem like much, but it's that kind of civil treatment that can help change people's attitudes and start the process of recognizing people as our fellow human beings instead of walling them off behind a label."
Rep. Debra J. Heffernan said HB 91 would help Delaware government set a respectful tone when referring to people with disabilities.
"One in five Americans have some type of disability, and it is the only minority group that any person can become a member of at any time through an accident, illness or one many are familiar with, the aging process," said Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred South. "These bills ensure that all state laws, regulations and publications in Delaware will use respectful, inclusive language to refer to people with disabilities by putting the person first before their condition or disability."
Rep. Quinn Johnson, who sponsored HB 123, noted that efforts to raise awareness about people with disabilities began two years ago and the bill is a continuation of that effort.
"I'm pleased the Governor's Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens and the school districts worked so well and embraced the initiatives started two years ago. Now we are able to make it a permanent part of our school curriculum," said Rep. Johnson, D-Middletown. "My son, who has a disability, makes sure that his disability doesn't define him. He defines who he is, and that is what we hope to communicate to people by raising awareness and educating them."
"I have enjoyed working with members of the disability community throughout the years and I think it's extremely important that we focus on the fact that they are people first," said House Majority Whip Rep. Valerie J. Longhurst, D-Bear and a co-sponsor of HB 123 and 214.
The bill was endorsed by Special Olympics Delaware, Autism Delaware, the Developmental Disabilities Council, the Governor's Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens and the State Department of Health and Social Services.