Human Relations Commission Amendment Deletes “Handicap” Substitutes “Disabled”

by Tony Rutherford, Editor
Human Relations Commission Amendment Deletes “Handicap” Substitutes “Disabled”

An ordinance adding sexual orientation and veterans to classes protected from discrimination opened a legalese debate, following a motion by council woman Rebecca Thacker that “disabled” be substituted for “handicap.”

“We’re not beggars , we are productive,” Ms. Thacker stated, calling the use of the “H” word demeaning and outdated.

City Attorney Scott McClure agreed in principle, but argued that federal and state legislation uses handicap. “It has a legal connotation that rises above the stigma. I don’t want to make a mess of the ordinance.”

The pre-researched change the word proposal found councilman Rick Simmons stepping to the plate and suggesting a side-by-side resolution. “We do not agree with [the wording] but we do it for legal procedures.”

Council vice chairwoman Sandra Clements indicated that Marshall University long ago dropped the use of “handicapped persons” substituting “persons with disabilities.”

At large councilman David Ball asserted that the word “denotes something that isn’t true. A musician may have a disability but not a handicap.”

Seeking a middle ground, Scott Caserta indicated, “I don’t like the word but I don’t want a legal battle.”

Human Relations Commission Amendment Deletes “Handicap” Substitutes “Disabled”

Ms. Thacker stressed, “I will not vote yes on an ordinance with that language.” Simmons agreed.

While discussing the yet to be done research, the body approved an amendment altering the word to “disabled.”  Should legal research indicate issues, council would on second reading debate the outcome,

A quick non-legal internet search revealed federal laws in the 70s, such as Education for all Handicapped Children Act (1975) but the Rehabilitation Act (1973) protected qualified individuals on the basis of disability. Further, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act ensured civil rights and equal opportunities for employment, transportation, telecommunications, and state/local government operations.

West Virginia Advocates, which fights for disability rights in WV, mentions the Rehabilitation Act as preventing discrimination against “otherwise qualified handicapped individuals.” Other legislation closed the state’s institutions which housed developmentally disabled individuals. http://wvadvocates.org/about-us/information/history/

Attorney McClure will now look at the word usage in the West Virginia Human Rights Act and similar policies of municipalities within the Mountain State and outside its borders.

To view the WV Act, click: http://www.legis.state.wv.us/wvcode/code.cfm?chap=05&art=11. The act uses disability in its definitions.

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