I am Rishima, a 10th grader from Delaware, USA. I was brought up to believe that I was able, because I was able-minded, that the essence of human life was to understand the difference between right and wrong, to believe in the goodness of human kind, of our communities and of our Government. And then, the Government (on whom we all so depend to uphold our Constitution, founding principles and the dignity of mankind) told me I was “handicapped”.
“Handicapped” along with at least 26% of our country. I am handicapped because I simply cannot understand subsection E040 of the regulation that governs the United States Postal Service.
Congress passed an Act regulating the postage for letters written by/for the blind, on March 2, 1899 – also referred to as the E040, or the “Free Matter for the Blind or Handicapped” Act. This piece of legislation is regarded as the first such postal law enacted for the benefit of blind or visually impaired persons living in the United States. I first learned of this Act when I read the instructions provided by the USPS with regards to mailing packages that require adjustments due to a person’s disability. I was surprised to discover the type of language used to describe people with disabilities on the USPS website and Congressional Law. The exact terminology on the USPS website dictates, “All matter mailed under this standard: Must be marked ‘Free Matter for the Blind or Handicapped’ in the upper right corner of the address side” of the envelope/package.
Thus, the USPS requires people with alternative needs or modes of communication to be referred to as “handicapped”.
Twenty six percent (1 in 4) of adults in the United States live with some type of disability (CDC). It is important to recognize people for who they are, to remember the fact that people with disabilities, are first and foremost people. They are beloved family members and are valued members of their communities. Every individual regardless of sex, age, race or ability deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
To this end, it is essential to eliminate prejudicial language that reinforces stereotypes and undermines individuals’ capabilities. This ultimately leads us to the question, why does the USPS, a formal entity of the U.S government, utilize and encourage the usage of vocabulary such as "handicapped" through the “E040 Free Matter for the Blind and Other Physically Handicapped Persons” regulation, to describe people who require modifications in their methods/modes of communication.
The term handicapped is generally defined as "having a condition that markedly restricts one's ability to function physically, mentally, or socially". The wording of E040 is archaic. Even Google categorizes the term “handicapped” as "dated" and "offensive”. There are negative connotations to the term "handicapped" when referring to a person who has a disability. The word “handicapped” has existed for centuries, but was not associated with people with disabilities until the late 1800s - people falsely, though commonly, believe that the term "handicapped" was first used in relation to individuals with disabilities, when Civil War veterans whose injuries prevented them from working resorted to begging on the streets with a "cap in hand". The term “handicapped” over time has tended to conjure up images of begging and associates it with people impacted by disabilities. Consequently, the term “handicapped” has been virtually eliminated in most contexts including vehicular parking which is more often referred to as "accessible parking" now. In fact, by the time the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, the term “handicapped” was already considered obsolete and awkward.
This legislation (E040) allows people who are blind or with other special needs, to mail communication materials for free. Each year, Congress appropriates funds for the United States Postal Service to cover the mailing costs associated with the “Free Matter for the Blind and Other Physically Handicapped Persons” Act.
When E040 was originally passed, the term “handicapped” was considered acceptable. The United States has already taken the first steps to discourage the usage of antiquated and derogatory terms such as “handicapped” through legislation. In 1992, when Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was renewed and amended, one of the amendments was to correct the terminology. Recognizing the negative impact of certain terms, the word "handicapped" was replaced with the phrase "persons with disabilities".
Recently, in May of 2019, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers signed a bill into law that replaces derogatory terms like “handicapped” with “disabled” in State regulations. At the Federal level, Congress passed Rosa's Law, which changed references to “mental retardation” in specified Federal laws to “intellectual disability,” and references to “a mentally retarded individual” to “an individual with an intellectual disability”.
When we utilize archaic and derogatory terms in legislation, even if innocuously, it only serves to demean and exclude people with disabilities. The usage of negative labels such as "handicapped" tends to over-emphasize one aspect — disability in a person's life. The language used in Congressional legislation, USPS documents and on Federal websites reflects on the identity of the United States. Former Vice President, Joe Biden expressed the belief, "America’s ability to lead the world depends not just on the example of our power, but on the power of our example", and that "American democracy is rooted in the belief that every man, woman and child has equal rights to freedom and dignity." Legislation and the language present in our legal documents should reflect how people with disabilities are perceived in our current society. It should reflect the ideals of equality, equal opportunity, and acceptance that the United States of America represents. It is important for people to understand that although a person lives with a disability, it is their circumstances that contribute to their handicap.
I understand Banks like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citi, American Express and other institutions, legally and in line with many other institutions around the country, leverage this postal expense reduction benefit. I have personally seen communication from a Bank with such a stamp on the envelope. While not using the E040 stamp on Bank communications will incur additional mail costs for the company, I believe it is the right thing to do. Banks are institutions that customers implicitly trust and rely on; they should know the person for themselves instead of presenting constant reminders of how one is different than the broader populace. Not wiping someone’s smile off their face when they receive a piece of mail from their Bank, is worth the extra $2 in mailing costs per customer.I ask, would Bank of America, Citi, American Express, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase etc. send a letter stamped with “Free Matter for the Blind and Other Physically Handicapped” to their best and richest clients? Human dignity and happiness should not be weighed against customers’ monetary worth to the company’s shareholders; and I do understand shouldering that decision, is not easy at times in the world we live in.
People with alternative needs existed in 1776 as well, yet our Country’s Founders showed us the way when they recognized the first self-evident truth in the Declaration of Independence - that all men are created equal.
If we as a ‘Country of Equals’ honestly embody that belief, it is vital that Congress and the USPS amend the "Free Matter for the Blind and Handicapped" subsection of the Postal Code to align with that self-evident truth.
It is with belief that we all matter that I submit my thoughts. I shall sincerely appreciate if you could please help me spread the word and bring about this change that we urgently need.