The Language of Respect

People First Language

We field a lot of phone calls here at Inclusion Solutions. Yes, many of them are orders for products or requests for services such as emergency management. But many of them are requests for assistance of an entirely different nature: Can you please call my local church and ask them to put in a ramp? Do you have the name of a good caregiver in my area? Can you help me apply for social security benefits? We do our best to help where we can, and our administrative assistants keep a list of resources on their desks to point people in the right direction.

Also on their desks? A copy of the Inclusion Solutions “bible,” better known as “People First” language. From mayors’ offices to well known news publications, Inclusion Solutions fields a number of calls requesting guidelines on how to discuss disability-related topics respectfully. In case you too have questions, here are our recommendations; courtesy of Kathie Snow at Disability is Natural!

States, Kathie, “Remember: a disability descriptor is simply a medical diagnosis. ‘People First’ language respectfully puts the person before the disability, and a person with a disability is more like people without disabilities than different.”

Say: people with disabilities.  Instead of: the handicapped or disabled

Say: He has a cognitive disability/diagnosis.  Instead of: He’s mentally retarded.

Say: She has autism (or a diagnosis of…).  Instead of: She’s autistic.

Say: He has Down Syndrome (or a diagnosis of…).  Instead of: He’s Downs; a mongoloid.

Say: She has a learning disability (diagnosis).  Instead of: She’s learning disabled.

Say: He has a physical disability (diagnosis).  Instead of: He’s a quadriplegic/is crippled.

Say: She’s short of stature/she’s a little person.  Instead of: She’s a dwarf/midget.

Say: He has a mental health diagnosis.  Instead of: He’s emotionally disturbed/mentally ill.

Say: She uses a wheelchair/mobility chair.  Instead of: She’s confined to/is wheelchair bound.

Say: He receives special ed services.  Instead of: He’s in special ed.

Say: She has a developmental delay.  Instead of: She’s developmentally delayed.

Say: children without disabilities.  Instead of: normal or healthy kids

Say: communicates with her eyes/device/etc.  Instead of: is non-verbal

Say: people we serve.  Instead of: client, consumer, recipient, etc.

Say: congenital disability.  Instead of: birth defect

Say: brain injury.  Instead of: brain damaged

Say: accessible parking, hotel room, etc.  Instead of: handicapped parking, hotel room, etc.

Say: She needs… or She uses…  Instead of: She has problems with/has special needs.

And one final rule of thumb: People with disabilities are – first and foremost – people. So ask yourself if the disability is even worth mentioning!

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