Communicating Using Person-First Language

Apr 21, 2022

Words are powerful. If not used properly, your tone and language can come off as unintentionally insensitive, hurtful, even harmful. Using person-first language is recommended when communicating about individuals with I/DD since it supports inclusion and is more respectful of the individual. The professional team of Independent Living Association, is a strong proponent of person-first language, just as their programs are person-centered.

While many support people-first language, some individuals may prefer for their disability to be acknowledged foremost in identity-first language. In this blog post, we will examine both.  

What is People-First Language?

People-first language employs descriptors and words that place the individual at the center of the description. In other words, the person comes first, before the disability, such as a ‘person who is blind,’ or you might refer to a ‘baker who has autism.’ People-first descriptions avoid discriminatory references to status and labeling and never focus on what someone cannot do. 

What is Identity-First Language?

Someone using identity-first language would use the reference, ‘autistic baker.’ Here, the developmental disability is placed first in the description. The disability is merely a part of their identity.

Inclusive Terminology

There are numerous modern terms used today in person-first language that help prevent exploitation and sensationalizing of a person’s disability. Here are just a few examples of inclusive terms to use:

  • ‘Person with a disability’ (instead of saying ‘handicapped’)
  • ‘Nonverbal’ (instead of saying ‘mute’ or ‘dumb’)
  • ‘Congenital disability’ (instead of saying ‘birth defect’)
  • ‘Person with a mental disability, intellectual disability, or developmental disability’ (instead of saying ‘mentally retarded’)
  • ‘Accessible Parking’ (instead of ‘Handicapped Parking’)
  • ‘A person with’ (instead of saying ‘suffers from’ or ‘is a victim of’)
  • ‘A person who uses a wheelchair’ (instead of saying ‘confined to a wheelchair’)
  • ‘A person who is Deaf or hard of hearing’ (instead of saying ‘hearing impaired’)
  • ‘Someone who is blind’ (instead of saying ‘vision impaired’)
  • American Sign Language-fluent and braille reader’ (instead of saying a ‘person who speaks sign language and reads braille’)

When communicating with someone with I/DD, it is always recommended to ask the individual their preference, as the choice of language style is highly subjective depending on the situation. If a disability is not relevant to the subject matter, you may leave that content out altogether.

Advocates of person-first language believe that using this method will assist service providers, teachers, therapists, and families in remaining focused and aware that the individual they are helping has dignity, emotions, and rights. They are not the disability; they are someone with a disability.ILA is a firm believer in preserving the rights and dignity of their Individuals and families and remains committed to utilizing people-first language to advance inclusion within the community. For more information on ILA’s programs and services, please visit our website.

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