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we must use
PEOPLE FIRST LANGUAGEA commentary by Kathie Snow
The difference between the right word and the almost
right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning
Who are the so-called handicapped?
Who are they, really?
Old Chinese Proverb
People First Language describes what a person HAS, not what a person IS!
People First Language puts the person before the disability!
The Disability Rights Movement is following in the footsteps of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the Women’s Movement of the 1970s. While people with disabilities and advocates work to end discrimination and segregation in education, employment, and our communities at large, we must all work to eliminate the prejudicial language that creates an invisible barrier to inclusion in the mainstream of life.
“Disability is a natural part of the human
Disability is not the “problem.”
If educators—and our society at large—perceived children with disabilities as individuals who have the potential to learn, who have the need for the same education as their brothers and sisters, and who have a future in the adult world of work, we wouldn’t have to fight for inclusive education.
If employers—and our society at large—believed adults with disabilities have valuable job skills and can contribute to the success of a business, we wouldn’t have to fight for real jobs for real pay in the real community.
If business owners—and our society at large—viewed people with disabilities as consumers with money to spend, we wouldn’t have to fight for accessible entrances and other accommodations.In our society, “handicapped” and “disabled” are all-encompassing terms that are misused.
It’s time we understand the power of language.
When we misuse words, we reinforce the barriers created by negative and stereotypical attitudes. When we refer to people with disabilities by medical diagnoses, we devalue and disrespect them as members of the human race. Disability labels are simply sociopolitical terms that provide a passport to services. For too long, labels have been used to define the value and potential of people who are labeled.
People will live up (or down) to our expectations. If we expect people with disabilities to succeed, we cannot let labels stand in their way. We must not let labels destroy the hopes and dreams of people with disabilities and their families.
Disability can be defined as a body function
Contrast that meaning with: the origin of “handicap,” from the dictionary, which refers to “hand in cap,” a game where the losing player was considered to be at a disadvantage; and a legendary origin of the word which refers to a person with a disability having to beg on the street with “cap in hand.”
“Handicapped,” “Disabled,” or People with Disabilities:
Using “handicapped,” and even “disabled,” typically evokes negative feelings (sadness, pity, fear, and more) and creates a stereotypical perception that people with disabilities are all alike. All people who have brown hair are not alike. All people who have disabilities are not alike. In fact, people with disabilities are more like people without disabilities than different!
The disability community is the largest minority group in our nation,
and it’s all inclusive! It includes people of both genders and of all
ages, as well as individuals from all religions, ethnic backgrounds, and
socioeconomic levels. About the only things people with disabilities have
in common with one another are 1) having a body part that is different and
2) facing prejudice and discrimination. Unique to the disability community
is that it’s the only minority group that anyone can join in the split
second of an accident.
If and when it happens to you,
Many people who do not now have a disability will have one in the future. Others will have a family member or friend who acquires a disability. If you acquire a disability in your lifetime, how will you want to be described? How will you want to be treated? Disability issues are issues that affect everyone!
Using People First Language is a crucial issue.
If people with disabilities are to be included in all aspects of our communities—in the ordinary, wonderful, and typical activities most people take for granted—they must talk about themselves in the ordinary, wonderful, typical language others use about themselves.
Children with disabilities are children, first. The only labels they need are their names! Parents must not talk about their children in the clinical terms used by medical practitioners. A parent of a child who wears glasses (medical diagnosis: myopia) doesn’t say, “My daughter is myopic,” so why does the parent of a child who has a medical diagnosis of autism say, “My daughter is autistic.”?
Adults with disabilities are adults, first. The only labels they need
are their names! They must not talk about themselves the way service
providers talk about them. An adult with a medical diagnosis of cancer
doesn’t say, “I’m cancerous,” so why does an adult with a diagnosis of
cerebral palsy say, “I’m disabled.”?
What’s the only purpose of a disability label?
A disability label is simply a medical diagnosis and
My son, Benjamin, is 14 years old. He loves Star Wars, pretzels, and playing on the computer; he collects Pez candy dispensers. He has blond hair, blue eyes, and cerebral palsy. His disability is only one characteristic of his whole persona. He is not his diagnosis, and his potential cannot be defined by his disability label. In fact, among friends and family, and in typical settings, a person’s disability should be irrelevant! Disability labels should only be used within the service system; they have no place in the real world!
When I introduce myself to people, I don’t tell them I’ll never be a prima ballerina. Like others, I focus on my strengths, not on what I can’t do. Don’t you do the same? I don’t say, “My son can’t write with a pencil.” I say, “My son uses a computer to write.” I don’t say, “My son can’t walk.” I say, “My son uses a wheelchair.” How can you change the language you use about yourself or others with disabilities?
A person’s self-image is strongly tied to the words used to describe the person. For generations, people with disabilities have been described in negative, stereotypical language that has created mythical portrayals about them. Over time, these myths have taken on the power of truths, when they’re actually lies. We must all believe people with disabilities are real people with unlimited potential, just like all people. We must stop believing the myths—the lies—of labels.
We have the power to create new truths about people with disabilities. Using People First Language can influence society’s views and treatment of people with disabilities.
Isn’t it time for us to make this change?
Benjamin goes ballistic when he hears “handicapped.” I hope when he’s grown, labels will be extinct. People First Language is right. Just do it—NOW!
Examples of People First Language
And no more “special needs”! A person’s needs aren’t special to him—they’re normal and ordinary! Keep thinking—there are many descriptors we need to change. Practice new ways of thinking!
Our words reflect the way we think, so let's get rid of descriptors like "mentally handicapped, physically disabled, mentally retarded, learning disabled" and other words that focus on the condition instead of the person. People First Language promotes dignity and respect for all!
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