eNews - October 26, 2015

person first language

“She is a Special Ed. Child”

“She is an Autistic Child”

“She is a Handicapped Child”

She is a person

These stigmas are more hurtful and negative than most of us realize. We hear it in the news, read it in articles, and most of all; we use this type of language as common practice in our everyday lives. It is said among family members and whispered in the grocery store and restaurants. Words are so powerful. They can change a person’s attitude, perception, and prejudice. Words can also build a person up to have the confidence to progress through life. Thanks to the People First Language movement, there is now an amazing shift in the language that is used when describing individuals with a disability.

From the California Department of Education (CDE) to the National Center of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (CDC) to various support groups and blogs around the nation, the idea and new thinking of People First Language (PFL) is hitting the ground and spreading like wildfire. For example, instead of an “Autistic Child”, now it is “a child with autism” this brings the child or person first. As a parent of a student with special needs, the struggles we go through on an everyday basis range from great to small. Bringing the person first in conversation brings a sense of “normal” to a long-standing need to change thinking across the board.

Parents of students with special needs, such as myself, long for “normal” in any way we can get it. We watch our children struggle and progress and many times society looks on with pity and sadness. We don’t need either one of those! We need understanding, acceptance, and most of all patience. What a great way by using and getting familiar with People First Language to lift that person up and emphasize what is truly important , the person, not the disability! This will change the way we see a person and it can change the way a person sees himself. Empowerment for individuals with a disability is the ultimate goal.

The CDC states “People first language is used to speak appropriately and respectfully about an individual with a disability. People first language emphasizes the person first, not the disability.”

Here are some suggestions from CDC on how to communicate with and about people with disabilities:

People First Language Language to Avoid
Person with a disability The disabled, handicapped
Person without a disability Normal person, healthy person
Person who is hard of hearing Hearing impaired, suffers a hearing loss
Person who uses a wheelchair Wheelchair bound
Person with Cerebral Palsy CP victim
Accessible parking or bathroom Handicapped parking or bathroom
Person who is blind/visually impaired Blind person

A small change like People First Language can cause an amazing ripple effect in everyone’s lives. As stated by Kathie Snow of disabilityisnatural.com, “They are people: moms and dads; sons and daughters; employees and employers; friends and neighbors; students and teachers; scientists, reporters, doctors, actors, presidents, and more. People with disabilities are people, first. They do not constitute the stereotypical perception…they are people and they are unique individuals.“