The Pryor Times

Opinion

April 25, 2013

The disabled are people first

Development Disabilities Awareness Month is important because it seeks to awaken us to a population that is largely “off the radar” of the rest of society. People with disabilities, their families, and their network of support quietly make due in world that hasn’t been tailor made to fit their needs.

On Developmental Disability Day at the Capitol in 2005 the disability community came into my radar for the first time. Though I’d seen wheelchairs and people with disabilities all my life, I really had never considered their challenges.

That day at the Capitol a group of self-advocates exposed to me challenges in things the rest of us really take for granted. Things like accessibility in homes, buildings, recreational facilites. Things like mobility and transportation — both public and private. And a most important part of self-esteem: jobs. I learned the unemployment rate among people with disabilities is in excess of 70 percent. All of these are important issues that demand as much attention as any other civil rights movement in our current political debate.

I’ve been a big supporter of efforts to change society’s mindset with a simple effort to get rid of the use of the word “retarded” in our slang and informal vernacular.   Even if used jokingly, words have the power to hurt. While most people would never think about using the word “retard” or “retarded” about a person with an intellectual disability, many people use the words to describe something they think is funny or bizarre. Using the word can unwittingly reinforce negative attitudes about people with disabilities and diminish the basic truth that people with disabilities are people first.

This session I co-authored SB 455, a measure that will remove the R-Word from the oath a juror takes before serving. Under the new oath a juror will affirm they do not have a mental condition which renders jury service impossible. Yes, its a little thing. But thousands of people have taken that oath which perpetuates a negative attitude. I am hopeful the measure will be heard by the full House and proceed to the governor’s desk.

And to those who might suggest this type of effort is just liberal, political correctness, Proverbs 15:4 lends guidance: “A wholesome tongue is the tree of life, but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.” Thank you for taking part in the effort to recognize and respect people with disabilities in actions, deeds, and words.

As the 2013 legislative session moves into its final month, please let me hear from you with questions or concerns about any pending bills. I can be reached at bensherrer@okhouse.gov or (800) 522-8502. Until next week, God bless you.

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