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 House Passes Bill To Remove Outdated and Offensive Terms in General Laws, Changes Mass.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

Special to the Independent

Rep. Joe McGonagle, along with his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed two bills that update the Massachusetts General Laws by removing out-of-date and offensive terms related to persons with disabilities, and by renaming the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) as MassAbility.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.”

“In 2024, we as legislators in Massachusetts should absolutely be the ones leading the way in inclusivity and ridding our laws of outdated terms,” said McGonagle. “This bill is a relatively small act that will make a difference for so many in the Commonwealth. I’m very proud of the my colleagues for choosing to make this bill a priority.”

“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.”

An Act relative to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities removes out-of-date and offensive language from the Massachusetts General Laws when referencing people with disabilities. The language in the bill removes all variations of outdated terms such as “handicapped,” “disabled,” and “retarded.”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House also passed legislation to rename the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission to MassAbility and to update the outdated terms included in its enabling statute. 

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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