Mass House Passes Bill To Remove Outdated and Offensive Terms in General Laws; Changes Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission’s Name to ‘MassAbility’

Special to the Sun

 Massachusetts House of Representatives  passed two bills on Wednesday, April 3, that update the Massachusetts General Laws by removing out-of-date and offensive terms related to persons with disabilities, and by renaming the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) as MassAbility.

“As lawmakers, we know that words matter,” said Speaker of the House Ronald J. Mariano (D-Quincy). “This legislation is our latest effort to ensure that our state laws do not use antiquated words that carry negative connotations, words that also serve as a reminder of past injustices. I would like to thank Chairman Livingstone and the entire Joint Committee of Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, as well as Governor Healey and the bill sponsors, for their work on this important legislation.”`​

“The name ‘MassAbility’ will help to reduce stigma and better reflect the strengths and capabilities of the people we serve,” said Gov. Maura Healey. “We’re grateful to Speaker Mariano and the House for advancing this critical legislation.” ​

An Act relative to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities removes out-of-date and offensive language from the Massachusetts General Laws when referencing people with disabilities. The language in the bill removes all variations of outdated terms such as “handicapped,” “disabled,” and “retarded.” The bill replaces these terms with current terminology such as “person with a disability” and “person with an intellectual disability.” Additionally, the term “autistic” is replaced with “autism” in reference to Autism Awareness Month. Originally filed by Governor Healey, the House also passed legislation to rename the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission to MassAbility and to update the outdated terms included in its enabling statute. 

“Removing out-of-date, antiquated and offensive language from the Massachusetts General Laws to describe people with disabilities is an important step in ensuring that our values, as a Commonwealth, are also reflected in statute,” said Rep. Jay D. Livingstone (D-Boston), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. “As legislators, it is our job to help make sure that people with intellectual or developmental disabilities feel included, accepted and embraced for who they are, and this is an important step in doing so. I am appreciative of all those who have worked on this effort before me who helped make this possible. I’d also like to thank the Speaker, Chairman Michlewitz, Chairman Honan, and all of my colleagues in the House for their support on this important issue.”

The Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities heard from many advocacy organizations in the disability community in support of the bill and all changes were vetted with relevant agencies, including Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Executive Office of Education, and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

“Today with the passage of this legislation the Commonwealth is taking a critical step towards fostering inclusivity and upholding our long-held principles of dignity and respect for all who call the Commonwealth home,” said Rep. Michael J. Finn (D-West Springfield), a lead sponsor of the bill. “We can all celebrate that it is long past time for the Commonwealth to update its General Laws, ensuring that no individual is subjected to negative and harmful language.”

“Today the House of Representatives takes a transformational step towards a more inclusive Commonwealth,” said Rep. Sean Garballey (D-Arlington), a lead sponsor of the bill. “By removing outdated words like ‘handicapped’, ‘disabled’, and the ‘R Word’ from MA General laws, we make a collective statement that Massachusetts is a place for all.”

Having passed the House of Representatives, the bills now go to the Senate for their consideration.

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