Think of that nickname your classmates jokingly called you back in the day. You hated it. It made you feel less-than. But if you told someone how you felt, they’d probably tell you, “It’s just a name. Don’t let it get to you.” Well, it’s 2019, folks. And we’re woke enough to know that the language we use to describe the people around us makes an impact. This is why “people-first language” is super important. Here, we’ll explain.
What is “people-first language”? PFL is exactly what it sounds like: putting the person before a qualifier. In this case, we’re talking about folks with disabilities. So instead of saying, “I have an autistic brother,” you’d put the person before the disability: “I have a brother who is autistic.”
OK, I get it, but why? Well, because your brother (in this case) is a person who happens to have autism. His identity isn’t autism—he’s also a brother, a son, a pastry chef and tons more. People-first language changes the conversation by using language to communicate that a person with a disability is a kaleidoscope of things beyond their disability. When you put their disability first, you’re perpetuating negative stereotypes and unintentionally creating invisible barriers. Instead, use your words to foster a positive outlook that raises the individual up instead of clumping together a bunch of people who happen to have the same disability.
Cool. But I don’t really know anyone with a disability. The important thing here is that when you do meet someone who has a disability, you can speak to them or about them in an empowering way. Also, let’s be real. Chances are you will meet someone with a disability, whether that’s at work, school, SoulCycle or in your kids’ classroom. In fact, according to The Arc, there are over 54 million Americans with disabilities. That makes people with disabilities the largest minority in the country. Good thing you know to put the person first.