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Spain changes constitution language on disabilities

Spain changes constitution language on disabilities

It's a change that has long been a demand from people with disabilities in Spain.

On Thursday, for the third time in the country's history, parliament voted to amend the constitution. Spanish MPs will change the language in Article 49, removing the term 'handicapped' and replacing it with 'persons with disabilities.' The amendment also added that “public administrations will pursue policies that guarantee the complete autonomy and social inclusion of people with disabilities.'

The two largest parties, the ruling Socialist Party and the conservative opposition Popular Party agreed to the change in a rare moment of consensus.

An important semantic change

The amendment was also backed by all the other, smaller parties represented in the chamber, except for the far-right Vox party. It passed by a vote of 312 to 32. It required the support of three-fifths of the Parliament’s lower chamber and must also be passed by the Senate, with the same margin.

“Today is a great day for our democracy,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who asked for forgiveness in the name of the country for having taken so long to make the change.

“We are paying off a moral debt that we have had with over 4 million of our fellow citizens," he said.

The use of the term 'handicapped' has largely been pejorative in many languages, reducing a person to the condition and can be both disrespectful and dehumanising. On the other hand, 'people with disabilities' places the identity of the person first, who happens to have a condition.

Third amendment since 1978

Only two prior amendments have been made to Spain’s 1978 Constitution, which marked the return to democracy after the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

The first amendment, in 1992, allowed citizens of other European Union member states to run as candidates in municipal elections. The second, in 2011, was to meet EU rules on public deficits amid the eurozone's debt crisis.

Spain’s Socialists and conservatives have been extremely wary of amending the Constitution for fear that smaller parties could use the process to make deeper changes to the constitutional monarchy or help the separatist aspirations of the Catalonia and Basque Country regions.

One example is the order of royal succession, to change it from the first-born male heir of the monarch to just the first-born child. Despite a widespread consensus, Spanish lawmakers have made no credible attempt to amend the order in the Constitution, for fears that republican left-wing parties could push for a referendum on the future of the monarchy.

The current heir to the throne is Princess Leonor, the eldest of the two daughters born to King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia.