These days certain segments of society like to denigrate those who insist upon particular language being used to refer to particular groups, be they of a certain race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability. Those who resist classifying language as “good” or “bad,” “naughty” or “nice,” “reprehensible” or “appropriate” often disparagingly label the preferred words and phrases as “too politically correct” or “too PC.”
Those who take that stance might be surprised to know that the Texas Legislature has determined that the language used in referring to persons with disabilities actually has an effect on shaping attitudes toward this segment of the population. These disparagers most probably do not know that this finding was codified into law in Texas Government Code Section 392.001, effective September 1, 2011. The statute reads:
The legislature finds that language used in reference to persons with disabilities shapes and reflects society's attitudes toward persons with disabilities. Certain terms and phrases are demeaning and create an invisible barrier to inclusion as equal community members. It is the intent of the legislature to establish preferred terms and phrases for new and revised laws by requiring the use of language that places the person before the disability.
Texas Government Code Section 392.002, also promulgated in 2011, provided that certain words and phrases in statutes referring to those with disabilities are preferred and other prohibited. These words were previously and continue to be prohibited: (1) disabled; (2) developmentally disabled; (3) mentally disabled; (4) mentally ill; (5) mentally retarded; (6) handicapped; and (7) cripple/crippled. The 2019 Texas legislature added these words to the barred list: (1) hearing impaired; (2) hearing loss; (3) audiologically impaired; (4) auditory impairment; and (5) speech impaired.
Section 392.002 substitutes the use of these words and phrases: (1) persons with disabilities; (2) persons with developmental disabilities; (3) persons with mental illness; (4) persons with intellectual disabilities; (5) deaf; (6) persons who are deaf; (7) hard of hearing; and (8) persons who are hard of hearing.
Given the legislature’s finding that certain words and phrases are demeaning and do not reflect inclusion of those groups as equals, individuals in society should adhere to these preferred words and phrases legislatively mandated for our laws, when speaking of persons with disabilities.
Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm in Fort Worth. She lives in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain.