Idaho Revises State Laws to Remove Ableist Language

Exciting news! On March 29th, Governor C.L. Otter signed a law removing ableist language from Idaho’s state code. From the Idaho Statesman:

The new law replaces outdated language in 73 different laws – including those addressing health and welfare, education and corrections – with more accepted phrases such as “intellectually disabled.”

Disability rights advocates said the revisions send a message to regular Idahoans that their government doesn’t tolerate disrespect, since words like retarded are used, especially among teenagers, to insult others or describe distaste. Officials in several other states, including Washington and Oregon, have enacted similar laws.

Here are a few examples of changes made by the law (from the bill text of Senate Bill 1330, available here)
  • A law giving interpreters to people appearing in court or witnesses in court cases says interpreters will be given to anyone “who does not understand or speak the English language, or who has a physical handicap which prevents him from fully hearing or speaking the English language.” The word “handicap” has been changed to “disability.”
  • A law ordering criminals on probation or parole to pay for the cost of supervision allows exemptions if “the offender has an employment handicap, as determined by a physical, psychological, or psychiatric examination.” The term “an employment handicap” has been changed to “a disability affecting employment.”
  • A law requiring fire safety plans and procedures defines an ‘institution’ as including “facilities for the mentally ill or mentally handicapped.” The description now reads “facilities for people with mental illness or intellectual disabilities.”

On one hand, this isn’t a huge change, and it can be argued that these are cosmetic changes when people with disabilities would be better served by changes to the actual laws, not just their wording. But I believe removing this ableist language from the official law of the state is a meaningful step to take.  Governor Otter made a statement when signing this law:

Otter compared words like retarded to racial slurs Americans used during World War II to describe Japanese people.

“We refer to people as Asians now, as Japanese,” he said. “During the Second World War, we always used the most derogatory terms that were possible at that point. It suggested the anger in our society at Pearl Harbor.”

4 Comments

  1. I’m glad to see this happen. Words matter.

  2. h prevents him from fully hearing or speaking the English language.”

    Pursuant to the second half of this blog’s name, they didn’t fix it to gender-neutral language as long as they were in there “to remove obsolete language; and to provide legislative intent on respectful language” ?!

    I’d say their goals were only partially met.

  3. Considering that “Butch” Otter is anti-gay-marriage, anti-abortion, and anti-wolf, I will not be revising my opinion of him any time soon.

    I am really glad the language has been changed, and hope other states will do the same. That’s about as revved up as I can get.

  4. I am inclined to consider these changes cosmetic, but the intent behind it is good. I also hope this will add some clarity to certain bills, in which outdated language can lead to misunderstanding (for example, the UK Mental Health Act refers to “psychopathic disorder”, while no such thing exists in psychiatric manuals).