People-first language

People-first language

People first language is a semantic technique used when discussing disabilities to avoid perceived and subconscious dehumanization of the people having the disabilities. The basic idea is to replace, e.g., "disabled people" with "people with disabilities", "deaf people" with "people who are deaf", etc., thus emphasizing that they are people first (hence the concept's name) and anything else second. Further, the concept favors the use of "having" rather than "being", e.g. "she has a learning disability" instead of "she is learning-disabled", an example of E-Prime language avoiding the verb to be.

The technique is to use the term "person with a disability", putting the person first, rather than "disabled person", which puts the disability first. The word ordering is thought to carry implications about which part of the phrase is more important. Many people with disabilities have expressed unease at being described using person-second terminology, seeing it to devalue them as people, with the implication that the most significant facet of their existence is their disability. Person-first terminology is therefore widely preferred in the discussion of most disabilities.

The rationale behind people-first language is that it recognizes that someone is a person, a human being, or a citizen first, and that the disability is a part, but not all of them. Thus, it asks for one to respect the disabled community as first and foremost a community of people. It is also supposed to confirm the right of the concerned group to define themselves and choose their own name.Since the late 1980s, people-first language has gained considerable acceptance with disabled people as well as professionals working with them or people otherwise interested in the topic. Adherence to the rules of people-first language has become a requirement in some academic journals. By extension, "people first" is a common part of the names of organizations representing people with disabilities in the United States and internationally.

Person-first terminology is rejected by some disabled people, most commonly deaf and autistic people. People with these two conditions generally see their condition as an important part of their identity, and so prefer to be described as "deaf people" and either "autistics" [ [ Sarah Tennant, Person-First Language and Autism: Neurodiversity and the Prejudice of Politically Correct Terminology] ] or "autistic people" rather than "people with deafness" and "people with autism". In a reversal of the rationale for person-first terminology, these people see person-first terminology as devaluing an important part of their identity and falsely suggesting that there is, somewhere in them, a person distinct from their condition. Notably, these two conditions have extensive effects on language use, leading to significant subcultures, the deaf community and the autistic community. These features are not shared with most other conditions that are commonly considered disabilities. Some people with these conditions do not consider them disabilities, but rather traits.

Critics have also objected that people-first language is awkward, repetitive and makes for tiresome writing and reading.Fact|date=May 2008 C. Edwin Vaughan, a sociologist and longtime activist for the blind, argues that since "in common usage positive pronouns usually precede nouns", "the awkwardness of the preferred language focuses on the disability in a new and potentially negative way". Thus, according to Vaughan, it only serves to "focus on disability in an ungainly new way" and "calls attention to a person as having some type of 'marred identity'" in terms of Erving Goffman's theory of identity. []

Examples of people-first language


* [ Disability is Natural]
*Jan La Forge: "Preferred language practice in professional rehabilitation journals." The Journal of Rehabilitation, 57 (1):49-51. (January, February, March)

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