People with disabilities are — first and foremost — people. People with disabilities are people who have individual abilities, interests and needs. For the most part, they are ordinary individuals seeking to live ordinary lives. People with disabilities are moms, dads, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, friends, neighbors, coworkers, students and teachers. About 54 million Americans — one out of every five individuals — have a disability. Their contributions enrich our communities and society as they live, work and share their lives.
Historically, people with disabilities have been regarded as individuals to be pitied, feared or ignored, and have been disrespected and devalued members of society. They have been portrayed as helpless victims, heroic individuals overcoming tragedy and “charity cases” who must depend on others for their well being and care — and at times, “repulsive” persons. Media coverage has frequently focused on heartwarming features and inspirational stories that reinforced stereotypes and patronized and underestimated individuals’ capabilities.
People with disabilities are, first and foremost, people. Here is a quick guide to People First and Identity First Language. You can find the full guide on the TCDD website: https://t.co/rC8ZRlG2Zj#DDAwareness #PeopleFirstLanguage #IdentityFirstLanguage #DisabilityVisibility pic.twitter.com/EbXZxZPuD6— Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (@TxCDD) July 14, 2021
Much has changed lately. New laws, disability activism and expanded coverage of disability issues have altered public awareness and knowledge, eliminating the worst stereotypes and misrepresentations. Still, old attitudes, experiences and stereotypes die hard.
People with disabilities continue to seek accurate portrayals that present a respectful, positive view of individuals as active participants of society, in regular social, work and home environments. Additionally, people with disabilities are focusing attention on tough issues that affect quality of life, such as accessible transportation, housing, affordable health care, employment opportunities and discrimination.
Eliminating Stereotypes — Words Matter!
Every individual regardless of sex, age, race or ability deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. As part of the effort to end discrimination and segregation — in employment, education and our communities at large — it’s important to eliminate prejudicial language.
Like other minorities, the disability community has developed preferred terminology — People First Language. More than a fad or political correctness, People First Language is an objective way of acknowledging, communicating and reporting on disabilities. It eliminates generalizations, assumptions and stereotypes by focusing on the person rather than the disability.
As the term implies, People First Language refers to the individual first and the disability second. It’s saying “a child with autism” instead of “the autistic” (see Examples of People First Language.) While some people may not use preferred terminology, it’s important you don’t repeat negative terms that stereotype, devalue or discriminate — just as you’d avoid racial slurs or saying “gals” instead of “women.”
Equally important, ask yourself if the disability is even relevant and needs to be mentioned when referring to individuals, in the same way racial identification is being eliminated from news stories when it is not significant.
Be sensitive when choosing the words you use. Here are a few guidelines on appropriate language.
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” – Mark Twain
Friends, neighbors, coworkers, dad, grandma, Joe’s sister, my big brother, our cousin, Mrs. Schneider, George, husband, wife, colleague, employee, boss, reporter, driver, dancer, mechanic, lawyer, judge, student, educator, home owner, renter, man, woman, adult, child, partner, participant, member, voter, citizen, amigo or any other word you would use for a person.