Person First Language

What’s In A Word?

The use of person first language is an essential aspect of working positively with people with disabilities. Historically, descriptions such as ‘lunatic’ and ‘imbecile’ were used on a daily basis with little thought as to the impact of such descriptions. In more modern times we now know that our choice of words to describe people can have a significant impact on other people’s perceptions. The use of derogatory words to describe people with disabilities not only insults the person with a disability but it also shows the user of such words in a less than positive light – there is so many positive words to choose from in the English language, why use negative ones to describe another human being?

Another Way Of Being

For years, decades even, disability was considered by many as something ‘wrong’ with the person. Definitions of disability used comparisons to the ‘able bodied norm’ – (whatever ‘normal’ is). The person with the disability was defined as a ‘less than capable’ person. When we think about this logically – and with the knowledge we have in current times – we can identify how ludicrous it is to define a person and their abilities by one aspect of who they are. Historically the focus was on the disability; in current times society has moved towards considering disability as another way of being.

Being Person First

Person first language is not a new way of speaking; it is not a new language or a new dialect. Person first language is about speaking about the person with respect; it is about putting the person before the disability and describing what the person has rather than who the person is. For example, ‘John has autism’ rather than ‘John is autistic’; ‘people with disabilities’ rather than ‘disabled people’. Further examples of Person First Language can be accessed here. One word can summarise what we need to do to ensure our language is person first – Respect.

Further information on person first language can be accessed on Kathy Snow’s website Disability Is Natural.