Governor Kathy Hochul has signed two bills intended to further inclusivity for people with disabilities into law. Namely, the pieces of legislation mandate that respectful language be used to refer to members of the disabled community, both in government statutes and on a prominent state planning council.
The planning council is now called the State Council on Developmental Disabilities (rather than Developmental Disabilities Planning Council) to comply with “person-first” federal disabilities law. Crucially, people with disabilities will now also have increased representation on the council, which has 31 seats that are appointed by the Governor. The council is an important waypoint for advocacy and peer training for the disabled community.
“It is important to myself and the State of New York that we remain up to date and respectful of individuals at all times. This legislative package will allow changes to outdated language in our State laws and continues our efforts to help strengthen the rights of all New Yorkers,” Hochul said.
District 76 NYS Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright–who represents a swath of the Upper East Side–was the lead sponsor for the bills. As a matter of fact, she happens to be the Chair of the People with Disabilities Committee, and was eager to tell Straus News about the positive impact she believes the bills will have.
The bills are heavily inspired by Rosa’s Law, a federal law signed by then-President Barack Obama in 2010 that replaced the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in federal policy. That law was named after Rosa Marcellino, a nine year-old girl with Down syndrome that tirelessly advocated for the language changes in her home state of Maryland.
Seawright mentioned that her bills stem from a desire to eliminate the same outdated language still present in Albany, saying that she is merely seeking to have lawmakers “comply with federal law.” She added that she’d been working on the bill to increase planning council representation since January.
Of course, Seawright gained momentum for the bill after the disabled community mounted a massive grassroots mobilization. ”The disability rights community is very, very large in New York State. We had a Disability Awareness Day in the spring, where thousands of people came to Albany in wheelchairs, with their walkers, with aids, and held press conferences,” she observed. They came bearing demands, and the success of their tireless advocacy is reflected by the new legislation.
In addition to being the Chair of the People with Disabilities Committee, a role that has her overseeing the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), Seawright sits on the Ways & Means Committee of the NYS Assembly. In other words, she stays well aware of whether the OPWDD is properly funded, considering that it relies on appropriations. This only helps matters.
Seawright stays busy with her allies in the disabled community in other ways. She proudly mentioned that she had “attended my very first wheelchair basketball game at CUNY...it’s only one of seven wheelchair basketball teams that exist in the nation.” Now she’s off to prepare for next year’s Disability Awareness Day.