By Kinera Foundation
You may have heard of people-first language, but what exactly does it mean? In the Macmillan online dictionary, people-first language or person-first language is “language about disability that deliberately puts the person first before the disability.” Wikipedia states that “people-first language (PFL), also called person-first language (PFL), is a type of linguistic prescription which puts a person before a diagnosis, describing what a person has rather than asserting what a person is” and it goes on to say that it is a “type of disability etiquette.” Easy enough, right? Yet there still seems to be confusion about how to describe a person’s disability while remaining compassionate and respectful to the person. And this seems to be prevalent when adults talk about or refer to a child with a disability. So, let’s take a closer look.
Why is people-first language important?
How we address someone—anyone, and everyone—is important because it affects the way that person feels. How we talk and write about someone influences the image we form about the individual, which in turn leaves behind an impression, either positive or negative, for others. This is why it is so important to put an individual first before his or her disability. It also stresses that each individual has equal value, and that no one person or child is better than another. By using people-first language we avoid isolating an individual. When people-first language isn’t used and the emphasis is placed on an individual’s cognitive, emotional, learning, physical or other difference, the individual may not feel accepted or included, which doesn’t support community-building efforts or inclusion.
Why use people-first language?
Just like the term applies, people-first language refers to an individual first and the disability second. So instead of saying a “Down’s child”, the most respectful way to describe a child’s diagnosis or disability (or any other descriptive trait) is to say “a child with Down syndrome.” A child’s disability is something he or she has, not who he or she is. This is so important for children to ensure the development of a positive, healthy self-image. The emphasis should always be on the person first because the disability should not define the individual. And by using people-first language, we avoid making generalizations and perpetuating stereotypes. This helps to create a compassionate and empathy-rich environment for our children to learn and develop in.
We all play a role in changing the language used to describe children with disabilities and differences. Remember: each and every child is a unique individual; every child is a child first—those without a disability and those with a disability. And when we collectively use people-first language, we are then moving toward creating an inclusive world for all!
Here are some helpful examples of people-first language:
She has Down Syndrome.
He is a child with a seizure disorder.
She uses a mobility chair or wheelchair.
He has an intellectual or developmental disability.
She has a visual impairment.
He has a hearing impairment.
Typical instead of saying “normal”
He has quadriplegia (not he is a quadriplegic).
People with disabilities.
People without disabilities.
Person who is unable to speak/person who uses a communication device
Students who receives special education services.
Accessible parking (not handicapped parking)