DD Awareness Month: What is People-First Language?
People with disabilities are – first and foremost – people who have individual abilities, interests and needs. They are moms, dads, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, friends, neighbors and coworkers. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, about 54 million Americans -- one out of every five individuals -- have a disability. People with disabilities comprise our nation’s largest minority group, which is simultaneously the most inclusive and the most diverse.
One of the major improvements in communicating with and about people with disabilities has been the rise in the use of "People-First Language.” People-First Language emphasizes the person, not the disability. By placing the person first, the disability is no longer the primary, defining characteristic of an individual, but one of several aspects of the whole person.
People-First Language eliminates generalizations and stereotypes, which is why at Monarch we always refer to people first, saying things like “a person who is developmentally disabled” or “a person who is living with Down Syndrome.” Similarly, a person who uses a wheelchair doesn’t say, “I have a problem walking,” they say, “I use/need a wheelchair.”
Jim Kelley, chief operating officer at Monarch, said “People-First language puts the person before the disability.”
“At Monarch, we constantly focus on who the person is, rather than what they have, through our language,” Kelley explained. “Using a diagnosis as a defining characteristic reflects prejudice, and also robs the person of the opportunity to define him/herself.”
The language a society uses to refer to persons with disabilities shapes its beliefs and ideas about them. When we describe people by their labels of medical diagnoses, we devalue and disrespect them as individuals. In contrast, using thoughtful terminology can help foster positive attitudes about persons living with disabilities.