People First Language

While Spring cleaning this week, I came across a Syllabus from a Journalism Class I had nearly 40 years ago. It included a discussion on People First Language (PFL). This professor I had called it “A Person, not a Problem”. We were learning how to write descriptions of people without making their backgrounds or beliefs an issue. As the professor explained various phrases we shouldn’t use, there was one piece of advice that really stuck with me. It was this: “Don’t refer to people as being a certain thing.” The professor explained, “Write about them as people who have whatever IT may be.” Such as:
  • A woman who has cancer, not a cancer victim.
  • A man living in the county illegally, not an illegal alien.
  • People without homes, not the homeless.
  • A returning citizen, not an ex-con.
  • A woman with a mental health condition, not an insane woman.
Fast forward 20 years as I started working in Education. I applied this PFL mindset to persons with disabilities, with one realization. Words do Matter. I was bothered by the phrase my professor used “A Person, not a Problem”. My unscientific study of language revealed that the #1 word used about people with disabilities is “problem.” And the problem with “problem” is that it’s also the #1 word that activates exclusion.

Here are a few more respectful PFL examples:
  • People with Disabilities instead of Disabled or Handicapped People.
  • Student with Autism instead of Autistic Student.
  • Woman with a Visual Impairment instead of Blind Woman.
  • Accessible Parking instead of Handicapped Parking.
To learn more on People First Language, check out ARC of Indiana and Disability is Natural.

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Comments 1

Guest - Julie Kuhn on Monday, 01 July 2019 08:46

A most excellent blog and great reminder for all of us.

A most excellent blog and great reminder for all of us.
Guest
Friday, 23 August 2019

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