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Pete Wright - the Dyslexic, ADD/ADHD Attorney
Editorial: When "People First" Narrows Your Focus

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I received your newsletter about the anniversary of IDEA*. I was surprised at the language you used regarding the name of the ACT. If we do not use “People First Language” how can we expect others to?

Could you not have shown the name of the ACT as Individual Education for Children with Disabilities even though the official name of the Act is different?

Pete Answers

When I read your email, I thought you were kidding. Sadly, you are serious.

You want us to change the name of the law because, in your opinion, Congress did not use a "people first" name?

In 1975, the battles revolved around simply opening the school house door to children with disabilities - the law was named the "Education for All Handicapped Children Act" - certainly an abuse of "people first."

Imagine if Congressional backers of the bill had focused on the name, not on the purpose of the law. The law could have been mired down in confusion for years.

Recently, with the last revision in 2004, the law continues under the name given in 1997, i.e., the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Practitioners in the special education legal field refer to the 1997 law as IDEA 97 and the present law as IDEA 2004.

For controversy to swirl around "people first," not on the impact of the law on its anniversary is counter productive.

We use "people first" language when we can, but we are not going to misinform or mislead our readers by changing the name of the law because the name offends the "people first" advocates.

Imagine what would happen to our credibility if we provided the wrong name of the law to our readers.

Imagine the number of furious emails we would receive if we took such a misleading position.

Imagine what would happen if we criticized Congress in our newsletter because of the name of the law.

Would criticism by us detract from the message? Of course.

I began practicing law in 1978. During my early years, in the Virginia special ed community, among educators and attorneys and hearing officers and judges, I was known as the "dyslexic ADD/ADHD attorney."

When that came up, either during a hearing, or in a meeting or whenever, did I stop the person to tell them that they offended me ...that I am an attorney who happens to have dyslexia and ADD/ADHD? Of course not.

I used their perception of me as an oddity to increase their understanding that a disability is not necessarily disabling.

When I describe my U.S. Supreme Court experiences during training programs, I explain that I could never have been successful in obtaining a unanimous 9-0 ruling in the Shannon Carter case if I wasn't so dyslexic, ADHD, and OCD - that what is perceived as a disability can actually be a strength!

It's too bad your reaction to the newsletter was not about the 35th anniversary of the law, but was narrowed to "people first."

Pete Wright

*Fulfilling the Promise - the 35th Anniversary of IDEA

Florence County School District Four v. Shannon Carter

Why Person-First Language Doesn’t Always Put the Person First. "As I became more involved with a wider range of people from within the disability community, I discovered that PFL is not the only way", explains Emily Ladau. (July 2015)

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Revised: 09/10/15
Created: 12/01/10

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