Choosing Words for Talking About Disabilities

White Plains, NY— The Board of Legislators is taking up a measure to make critical changes in decades-old language in Westchester County's laws relating to people with developmental disabilities.

The new language, introduced Monday night by Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D - Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry, Edgemont, Hartsdale, Hastings-on-Hudson, Irvington), will bring the language in the County's laws in line with the County's person-centered approach to policy and programs. 

Long-standing mental hygiene language in the County Charter and sections establishing the Department of Community Mental Health still refer to "mental retardation" and "the mentally ill," among other archaic and offensive terminology. The new language will refer instead to “individuals with mental illness” and “individuals with developmental disabilities.”

Shimsky said, "Words matter, beyond just their literal meanings, and especially when those words are fundamental building blocks of our government's actions and practices. These long-overdue changes will enshrine permanently in County law the dignity and respect that people with disabilities in Westchester deserve.  These were changes that were made in federal law unanimously more than a decade ago, and it is high time we in Westchester take this action." 

Chairwoman Catherine Borgia (D - Briarcliff Manor, Cortlandt, Croton-on-Hudson, Ossining, Peekskill) said, “People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are extraordinary people who overcome much adversity in their lives. They deserve to be treated with respect; that begins with language that we use in our laws, which are, and should be, designed to provide them with protection and a voice.  I want to thank Legislator Shimsky for focusing our attention on the unfortunate language that lingers in our County charter. I'm pleased that the Board will be taking up this important issue and I look forward to passing these changes and seeing them signed into law."

 To see text of the proposed changes visit: