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People First Langauge


Unfortunately, people too often use language that may be demeaning, misguided or even name calling in nature, when speaking of someone with a disability, whether this is intended or not. Nevertheless, such behavior reflects ignorance, lack of familiarity and fear. For individuals with developmental disabilities, the name calling often takes the form of referring to them by their disability. Instead, one should refer to the person first, and then note the disability as only one aspect of that person. 

People with disabilities should be treated as equals. People with disabilities, should be given the right to make the same decisions, and to have the same choices and responsibilities as anyone else, should be allowed to make new friends and renew old friendships and be as independent as we are able, should be able to live where we want to live and work where we want to work, and should also be included in society and not be singled out as being different.

We've all heard them.  Culturally insensitive terms such as "handicapped", "retarded" and "slow" used to refer to people with disabilities, or "compliments" such as "but you look so good," directed at people whose disabilities aren't obvious.  While those using the terms may not mean to be insensitive, that doesn't make the words less hurtful.'

In recent years, those labels have taken on more prominence as people with disabilities seek equal treatment and regard in the eyes of wider society.  Change in language can alter the way people think… advocates say.

When I write here, I use the words "person with autism" and "autistic person" pretty interchangeably.  Every once in a while, this column gets a comment telling me I should use "person first language", meaning I shouldn't use the word "autistic" to describe a person.  Because I've heard this criticism more than once, I feel it necessary to tell you that I not only use the word "autistic" intentionally, but thoughtfully and with purpose.

Updated with several new resources about communicating with, and about, people with disabilities.  It includes information about the importance of using "people first language."

If you have not had many interactions with persons with disabilities, you may not know exactly how to act.  This guide book will help to ensure respectful and equal treatment of people with disabilities.

This problem is not limited to the media: a lot of people with disability terminology.  People want to use the right word, but they're not really sure what the right word is, and sometimes some very intriguing circumlocutions and euphemisms are employed in the service of trying to be respectful.

This is a concept of ensuring that people with disabilities are called people first, before any impairment or disability. Instead of using a disability as a way to call a person, such as “hey blind dude” or “you quadriplegic,” you say “man with visual impairment” or “person who cannot walk.” It is a way to ensure dignity and respect for people with disabilities.

The headline, "Autistic teen dies after being shot by Cal City police" could be taken offensively by those with a developmental disability or those who love someone with a developmental disability.  The standard today is to use "people-first language."  "People First Language" is a form of linguistic prescriptivism in English, would help to avoid dehumanization when discussing people with disabilities.

People First Language (PFL) is a way of communicating that reflects knowledge and respect for people with disabilities by choosing words that recognize the person first and foremost as the primary reference and not his or her disability.

Referring to people with disabilities requires knowing the correct terms to use to be politically correct.  It also requires knowing how to avoid using terms that might be inadvertently insulting to the individual or that might stereotype them to others.  Whether in a social situation, on the job, or when writing about individuals with disabilities, appropriate references are essential.

Do the words used to describe you have an effect on your life?  You bet!  Contrary to the age-old "stick and stones" lesson we learned as children, words do matter!  As the articles in this section illustrate, positive changes in our language and communication can change our lives and change our words!  How will we use the power of words?

Patti's Comments:  This is a great summary – please consider using the suggestions outlined in this article!

People First Language is not political correctness; instead, it demonstrates good manners, respect, the Golden Rule, and more—it can change the way we see a person, and it can change the way a person sees herself!

To ensure INCLUSION, FREEDOM, AND RESPECT for people with disabilities, we must use PEOPLE FIRST LANGUAGE

People-first language might be an unfamiliar concept to most people.  But local mental health professionals hope to educate people on the correct language to use in describing people with disabilities.

I've been an Advocate in the developmental disability community for about twenty years.  The terminology that is used to describe people, services, and supports changes frequently with every change in how, where, or when services and supports are provided.  Instead of simplifying things, being more respectful, or becoming more "person-centered" the new terms frequently just become another way of distancing or separating people with developmental disabilities from the mainstream of society.

People with disabilities are – first and foremost – people who have individual abilities, interests and needs. They are moms, dads, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, friends, neighbors, coworkers, students and teachers.  About 54 million Americans one out of every five individuals have a disability. Their contributions enrich our communities and society as they live, work and share

"The Disabled." Almost every time I read an articles covering disability in some way or another, this noxious turn of phrase come up.  "The disabled" say this and "the disabled" feel this way about something.  It's a dehumanizing way of referring to people with disabilities, as though we are a vague, collective mass that all think, behave, and act in the same way.  It assumes that our experiences are shared and universal.​

23 million people in our country are in addiction recovery. Language is powerful. "person first" language focuses on the person, not the disorder.