Jill Erin Eglé of New Orleans wants to change the world.
She’s doing it by getting states to write bills that eliminate the word, retarded, from their laws.
The 38-year-old’s work has influenced both Virginia and Louisiana so far.
She was also instrumental in helping pass Rosa’s Bill in 2010. It is law that eliminates the r word from federal laws.
Jill describes herself as the “world’s greatest self-advocate.”
But Jill said she wasn’t the same person she is today before she found her life purpose.
“I wasn’t always so self-confident and fearless,” she said. “In fact, growing up I was anything but that way.”
Jill was diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability at an early age.
“It wasn’t long after that label was put on me, that people started referring to me as retarded,” she said.
She recalls how hurt she felt when people treated her as a lesser person and called her by the r word.
“I was made fun of, laughed at and had no true friends, all because I had a low IQ and didn’t grasp things as quickly as normal people do.”
And things didn’t get any easier after high school as she was looking for the right job.
But Jill didn’t give up. Her family wouldn’t let her give up either.
Her luck changed after she went to work for the Arc of Northern Virginia, first as a volunteer, then a receptionist, and then a spokesperson at the Virginia legislature.
“The director at the time, Nancy Mercer, saw abilities in me,” Jill said.
Jill’s “excellent” verbal skills made her a great candidate to testify as a self-advocate at the Virginia legislature.
“Wow, what a life change in a short period of time!” Jill exclaimed. “I went from a young woman who had a poor self-image with no direction to a powerful self-advocate and I/DD leader.”
The rest is history.
Now, Jill says eliminating the r word from state and federal statues is only the beginning.
She recognizes peoples’ use of the r word as belittling when it’s used to name a person.
“As a society, we are becoming more sensitive and learning that hurtful words like “retarded” have no place in our vocabulary,” she said. “That is hurtful and should be changed.”
Making a difference
Jill moved from Virginia to Louisiana in 2011. She continues to promote herself as a self-advocate and leader in Louisiana.
Jill has visited Tulane University in New Orleans and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge to tell her story to educators and students, so they can understand how to help people with I/DD.
In addition, Jill often visits elementary and middle schools, spreading her message about inclusion, anti-bullying and treating people with love and respect.
“The greatest joy in my life today is to touch the lives of young children with I/DD and tell them how much I love them and assure them of happiness in their future,” she said.
Remove the r word from your vocabulary
Jill gives these tips:
- Don’t ever use it – even when joking. Others will think it’s ok if you use it, and they’ll use it too.
- When you hear someone use the word, explain how hurtful it is to use the r word.
- Speak to state legislators about removing the r word from all statutes in your state.