We’re People, Not Jars

Ten years ago, a group of Washington state citizens with developmental disabilities decided to do something about the words people used to describe them. They also decided that they would be the ones to lead the charge by spearheading state legislation to prohibit the use of derogatory labels in state laws.

It was something that had never been done before, not in this state or the country, and it happened during the early swell of an historic and unrelenting economic downturn, worsening partisanship, and what would become routine legislative logjams in our state (and later, the nation). Doing something positive and proactive just wasn’t on anyone’s radar, but they felt up to the challenge.

“Don’t label us,” their campaign slogan proclaimed. “We’re people, not jars.” They called the legislation Respectful Language.

Despite having gotten broad bi-partisan sponsorship—and, with the assistance of then Senator Debbie Regala, having kept the bill from getting a fiscal note that would have meant certain death—the Respectful Language bill faced tough challenges and surprising twists.

The following video captures this remarkable effort and serves as a reminder that, regardless of status or influence, every citizen has a right to speak up, take action, and make change happen.


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