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What is People First Language?

People with disabilities are people who have abilities, pastimes and needs. About 54 million Americans -- one out of each five experience a disability. Their contributions enrich our communities and society as they live, work and share their lives.

People with disabilities constitute our nation’s greatest minority group, which is concurrently the most inclusive and the most diverse. Everyone is represented: of all genders, all ages, all religions, all socioeconomic degrees and all ethnic backgrounds. The disability community is the only minority group that each person can be part of at any time.

Societies use language to label and describe people who experience disabilities. The use of that language has the ability to shape its beliefs and ideas about them. Words are powerful; Old, inaccurate, and inappropriate descriptors perpetuate negative stereotypes and attitudinal barriers. When we describe human beings by means of their labels of medical diagnoses, we devalue and disrespect them as individuals.

In contrast, the use of thoughtful terminology can foster tremendous attitudes about people with disabilities. One of the most important upgrades in communicating with and about individuals with disabilities is "People-First Language.”

People first language is used to speak appropriately and respectfully about an individual with a disability. People first language emphasizes the person first not the disability. For example, when referring to a person with a disability, refer to the person first by using phrases such as: “a person who …”, “a person with …” or, “person who has…”

People-First Language is a good way of acknowledging, communicating, and reporting on disabilities. It eliminates generalizations and stereotypes, by focusing on the man or woman as an alternative than the disability.

Disability is no longer the “problem.” For example, a person who wears glasses doesn’t say, “I have a problem seeing,” they say, “I wear/need glasses.” Similarly, a character who makes use of a wheelchair doesn’t say, “I have a problem walking,” they say, “I use/need a wheelchair.”

Here are some examples of People First Language:

Our phrases and the meanings we attach to them create attitudes, drive social influence, policies and laws, have an effect on our emotions and decisions, and affect people’s daily lives and more. How we use them makes a difference. People First Language places the person before the disability, and describes what an individual has, not who an individual is.

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