Let’s Talk About People-First Language


Chloe Shepherd, Staff Writer

People-first language, sometimes referred to as person-first language, is a type of a linguistic prescription that puts a person before a disability or diagnosis. The purpose of using people-first language is to discontinue the dehumanization of people with disabilities. This type of language describes what a person “has” and not what that person “is.”

The opposite of people-first language is identity-first language. What’s the big issue with identity-first language? Well, first of all, people with disabilities don’t like it. A lot of people with disabilities prefer to be talked about in people-first language. People with disabilities don’t want to be defined by their disability. For example, to be referred to as an “autistic person” puts autism ahead of the person. Having autism isn’t the only quality that person has. They are not their autism, they just have autism. The person is a person before they are a disability. Referring to people in identity-first language can lead to that person not getting the respect they deserve.

A bigger picture to think about is that someone having a disability shouldn’t diminish that person’s worth. The truth is, people still carry a stigma about disabilities, and they shouldn’t. Having a disability isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a thing. It’s just what someone has. Until that stigma diminishes, practice using people-first language.

While we discuss what’s appropriate, let’s talk about some terms that shouldn’t be used. You should always say no to the r-word. It’s not polite, and it should be avoided. Also, a lot of people with disabilities don’t like to be called “special needs”, so try to avoid that term, as well.

People-first language comes down to respect for other people. It’s important to treat people with kindness and respect.