State House Passes Bill To Remove Outdated and Offensive Terms in General Laws, Changes Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission’s Name to ‘Massability’

Special to the Sun

The Massachusetts House of Representatives has passed two bills that update the Massachusetts General Laws by removing out-of-date and offensive terms related to persons with disabilities, and by renaming the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) as MassAbility.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 Governor Maura Healey. “We’re grateful to Speaker Mariano and the House for advancing this critical legislation.”

“The language we use reflects our values, and this legislation will ensure that our laws and institutions are updated to treat the individuals they serve with dignity and respect,” said Representative Adrian Madaro (D-East Boston). “Outdated and offensive language has no place in our statutes, and these changes underscore our commitment to advancing and uplifting persons with disabilities in our communities across the Commonwealth”.

An Act relative to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities removes out-of-date and offensive language from the Massachusetts General Laws when referencing people with disabilities. The language in the bill removes all variations of outdated terms such as “handicapped,” “disabled,” and “retarded.”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House also passed legislation to rename the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission to MassAbility and to update the outdated terms included in its enabling statute. 

“Removing out-of-date, antiquated and offensive language from the Massachusetts General Laws to describe people with disabilities is an important step in ensuring that our values,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 Representative 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 Representative 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 Representative 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.

Statements of Support:

The Arc of Massachusetts:

“The Arc of Massachusetts is grateful for the passage of the Archaic Language Bill. This legislation has been a priority to The Arc and we appreciate the efforts made by the sponsors of the bill and our legislative champions at the MA State House. Thank you to the past and present Chairs and members of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities.  Special recognition to the self-advocates who led the way and never gave up. Words hold power! The language people use is important and influences thoughts and attitudes about people and their capabilities. The use inappropriate language in society and in our Massachusetts General Law perpetuates negative stereotypes about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). This legislation will not just create legal change but also social change. The Arc strongly supports the passage of this bill as a sign that Massachusetts is listening and will support people with IDD by using thoughtful and positive language in the laws.”

Barbara L’Italien, Executive Director of the Disability Law Center:

“Removing archaic language in legislation plays an important role in reducing social stigma and ensuring that state agencies and courts view people with disabilities as entitled to full, equal, and integrated lives in the community.”

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