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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Disability Justice ----- Front Door Justice

This short essay is to suggest adoption of some new terminology. Even this new terminology will have a half life and will succumb to yet newer terminology at some point. But the effort to freshen language may have some benefit.

Words have weight. Labels carry meaning. And where labels are applied, as they often are, to people who have been devalued or stigmatized, labels affect how those people are treated.

The Pennhurst institution (Halderman v. Pennhurst State School and Hospital), was originally called an institution for "the epileptic and feeble minded." I have the original architect's drawing of the facility in my office, with that title.  Words like "idiot" and "retarded" and "moron" have given way to "developmental disabilities." Clients, patients, inmates, self-advocates, residents, etc., all have or have had their day.

Among legal advocates, there have been short epochs of terms such as "patients rights," "disability rights," "civil liberties," and more recently "disability law." Very early on, 1972, I founded the first in-hospital legal advocacy group in a mental institution and called it the "Mental Patient Civil Liberties Project." I'd not call it that today.

I suggest that "DISABILITY JUSTICE" replace the terms "disability law" and "disability rights." The word JUSTICE carries with it nuances of fairness, and right-ness, and references both biblical and other notions encompassed by the breadth of the word JUSTICE.

Recently, a state court appellate judge speaking in this field, and inspiring lawyers and other advocates in this field, used the phrase, "FRONT DOOR JUSTICE."  People with disabilities no longer are willing to have a separate entrance to the halls of justice. People with disabilities are demanding first class entry. No more back door ramp is what the judge is calling for. A great phrase. The judge is blind; he knows whereof he speaks.

My next step: To see if I can change the title of this blog!

Your thoughts?

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