Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Person First

Labels, names, identifiers.  Do we need them?  I mean, do we need them when discussing people?  I have a problem with giving people labels.  I know in some cases we need them, but really........

Person First Language is a way for me to get past those labels (ok, kind of).

From Wikipedia

People-first language is a form of linguistic prescriptivism in English, aiming to avoid perceived and subconscious dehumanization when discussing people with disabilities, as such forming an aspect of disability etiquette.
The basic idea is to impose a sentence structure that names the person first and the condition second, for example "people with disabilities" rather than "disabled people", in order to emphasize that "they are people first". Because English syntax normally places adjectives before nouns, it becomes necessary to insert relative clauses, replacing, e.g., "asthmatic person" with "a person who has asthma." Furthermore, the use of to be is deprecated in favor of using to have.
The speaker is thus expected to internalize the idea of a disability as a secondary attribute, not a characteristic of a person's identity. Critics of this rationale point out that separating the "person" from the "trait" implies that the trait is inherently bad or "less than", and thus dehumanizes people with disabilities.
The term people-first language first appears in 1988 as recommended by advocacy groups in the United States.[1] The usage has been widely adopted by speech-language pathologists and researchers, with 'person who stutters' (PWS) replacing 'stutterer.' [2]


Do the words used to describe you have an impact on your life? You bet! Contrary to the age-old "sticks and stones" lesson we learned as children, words do matter!
For too long, people who happen to have conditions we call "disabilities" have been subjected to devaluation, marginalization, prejudice, and more. And the first way to devalue someone is through language, by using words or labels to identify a person/group as "less-than," as "the others—not like us," and so forth. Once a person/group has been identified this way, it makes it easier to justify prejudice and discrimination. Our language shapes our attitudes; our attitudes shape our language; they're intertwined. And our attitudes and language drive our actions!
Using People First Language—putting the person before the disability—and eliminating old, prejudicial, and hurtful descriptors, can move us in a new direction. 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.


"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and a lightening bug."  Mark Twain
Know Me Poster (Small)

Instead of:
  • He's ADHD.
  • He's a Down's kid.
  • She's LD.
  • A disabled program is in that building

  • Use Statements Like These:
  • John has ADHD.
  • David has Down's Syndrome.
  • Susan is a child with a learning disability.
  • That building houses a program for people who have disabilities.

Words are powerful and they can hurt.
Next time before speaking, think first, people first.  Thank you.

Be gentle.


  1. Thanks for posting. "Down's baby" or even worse "a Down's" is one of my biggest... pet peeve isn't even a strong enough word. It really gets my back up.

    Though I don't expect People First language to be common-place, I was disappointed to find medical so-called professionals to not only use terms like in the above paragraph, but to look at me funny when I tried to gently correct to the people-first "with Down's".

  2. Agreed. I saw an advertisement for one of the new summer shows. They said it was about a schizophrenic. Why couldn't they say "a person with schizophrenia"? It just grates on me.


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