Lessons Learned From Ohio HB 158
It is so important for us to recognize the profound impact our language has on others. Our choice of words can encourage, energize and inspire; or they can discourage, exclude and deflate.
We experience the impact in our work, our homes, our schools and our personal relationships. Consciously or unconsciously, what we say and how we are spoken to influence our ability to succeed or fail as individuals, as a community.
I have seen children raised in the most difficult of circumstances grow to be resilient leaders due in part to the positive role models in their lives who focused on strengths. I have seen flourishing workplaces where employees excel because they are working in a nurturing environment where management and colleagues understand the value of positive reinforcement. And I have seen people who do, think and say things differently with confidence and fortitude because the opinions, actions and yes, words, of those in their lives have fostered a sense of belonging, understanding, and ability.
For as long as I have been an adult, through all the many years that I have worked with disability related organizations, that I have simply lived and experienced relationships, I have disliked the words ‘mental retardation’. The words have a visceral effect on me. It just sounds derogatory and belittling to me, perhaps because of the horrible feeling I got in the pit of my stomach when I heard the abbreviation, ‘retard’. That same ugly feeling I get when I hear words referred to other groups of people aimed at knocking them down.
I recognize that to many, those words ‘mental retardation’ may conjure no negative or positive meaning. They are simply six syllables taught to describe a population.
Diana Mairose, an advocate support advisor for Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services, has been tirelessly working to change the vocabulary used to refer to people with disabilities. She is the major reason why the word ‘handicapped’ was removed from the blue accessibility signs locally and statewide. In 2009, she helped remove the words ‘mental retardation’ from the State of Ohio; however, not in the Ohio Revised Code…until last week. (You can read more about her in this post.)
In front of about 100 people – including Diana – Governor John Kasich signed into law Ohio House Bill 158, which formally removes the MR phrase in the Ohio Revised Code, replacing it with the more respectful ‘intellectual disability’.
“It was a very honored occasion,” Diana told me. “I am really happy that the people in government can see how it will show respect to so many people we serve. Mental retardation are words we need to stop using all together.”
Now it is our turn, to make a conscious decision to stop using words that discourage, exclude and deflate people. And, instead, use our language to rise people up, energize, include and inspire them.
When we do that, we all will benefit.