The Power of Words: 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, coworkers, and students. They are a part of the community.
About 54 million Americans — one out of every five individuals — have a disability. People with disabilities constitute our nation’s largest minority group, which is simultaneously the most inclusive and the most diverse. Everyone is represented: all genders, all ages, all religions, all socioeconomic levels and all ethnic backgrounds. The disability community is the only minority group that anyone can join at any time.
Words are powerful. The language a society uses to refer to persons with disabilities shapes its beliefs and ideas about them. Old, inaccurate, and inappropriate descriptors perpetuate negative stereotypes and attitudinal barriers. In contrast, using thoughtful terminology can foster positive attitudes about persons with disabilities.
What is 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. It eliminates generalizations and stereotypes, by focusing on the person rather than the disability. All it takes is flipping the order of your words – so instead of disabled person, you refer to the person as a person with a disability.
Some people prefer identity-first language. You should always respect how a person wants to refer to themselves if they communicate a preference.
Our words and the meanings we attach to them create attitudes, drive social policies and laws, influence our feelings and decisions, and affect people’s daily lives. How we use them makes a difference, and at The Arc, we advocate for respect.