Friday, March 14, 2008

Changing consciousness through the words we choose

Today during the House floor session, one of the members inadvertently used the term "deaf and dumb".  Rep. Jimmy Tokioka rose to speak.  As the father of a young son who is hearing impaired, he found the term offensive, and he asked his colleagues to be more sensitive in choosing their words.  

It was not the first time I had seen him do this.  During a committee hearing, the same term was used, and Rep. Tokioka immediately spoke to address the inappropriateness of the remark.  I suspect that whenever he hears those words, he will speak out as a way to change how society views and treats those who are hearing impaired, even if it's one person or one incident at a time.

Rep. Tokioka is no stranger to standing up and fighting for the rights of not only his son, but for all who face discrimination.  In 2005, he was kicked out of the dugout of his son Justin's Pony League baseball game where he was serving as a sign language interpreter.  Pony League rules only allowed for three team coaches.  The Tokiokas filed a complaint with the US  Justice Department that the League violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.  In 2006, a settlement was announced allowing sign interpreters in the dugout.  The case is expected to set a precedent for future discrimination complaints against youth sports leagues based on disability.

Words are powerful.  The words we choose reflect our thoughts and our actions.  On one level, it's very touching to see a father stand up and do what he can to make the world a fairer place for people like his son.  On a broader level, it's a reminder for all of us that wrongful speech leads to wrongful actions.

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