What is People First Language and how can we bring more awareness to the use of People First Language?
According to Kathie Snow from Disability is Natural (2016) and the Independent Inc., people living with "disabilities" make up the United States largest minority (1 in 5 Americans need some kind of support). This minority group is also the most inclusive of all minority groups. Wow! This means it includes all genders, religions, ethnicity, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic levels. And yet, American's "living with disabilities" are still discriminated by the language we use when referring to them. Let's change that. Together we can do anything.
First, let's learn what terms are inclusive when referring to our neighbors and community living with disabilities. Check out the infogram above and become familiar with the Do's & Don't s of Inclusive Language. It's OK if you have been using the wrong language, but have wanted to be courteous and kind. Awareness will change that and will empower you.
It's important to remember that inaccurate descriptors perpetuate negative stereotypes, and that most people want to know the proper language, so I give you permission to tell people the proper descriptor when you hear any of these old descriptors in your community.
Next, understanding disability is a way we can all educate ourselves on the subject. What is a disability anyway? Good question. There isn't a solid definition of disability to use. There are however medical diagnosis and therapeutic terms and social service codes, but those are to broad and cover a huge array of identifiers. So, how do we define disability? Good News, we don't have to. We can refer to the Person First. In this way we see the person and then we can ask the person or their caregiver, what support they need, instead of refer to their "disability." For example: If Nicole comes to dance class, I don't need to ask her mother what is her disability? I can ask her mother, what does Nicole need to feel supported in yoga class, or I can ask Nicole herself. We as a community are better using People First Language because we are mostly uneducated on the topic of "disabilities", and using labels can also hinder our ability to explore all the many unique abilities a person does have.
I work with hundreds of people with all kinds of abilities in my dance and yoga classes. I don't know their medical background or don't see their diagnosis assessments (unless in a therapeutic setting), I don't need to. I see them as people who may or may not need assistance, support or guidance from me. This is an attitude of inclusion, and we can all shift our attitudes about how we see others who need more support in out communities.
Ready for an attitude adjustment? Let's do this!
Our attitudes drive our actions. So, seeing people who need more support in the world as natural, is the beginning to shifting how the world engages with all the many people out there with body parts, minds, brains, eyes, ears etc. that work differently. If we were injured in a ski accident and lost the use of our leg, would we want someone to then refer to us as "disabled"? Most likely not. We want to be us, whatever us that shows up in the world, and be accepted and included and have access to all the amazing things the world has to offer.
When in doubt, ask the person what they prefer. In this way you are sure to use the correct language and not offend anyone. And remember, let's not assume people are unable to hear or talk etc. just because they are in a wheelchair or use a device for support. In my experience most people who use support are grateful to share their preferred language with you, they are glad you asked.
Changing perceptions and paradigms can take some time, but with awareness and a desire to learn, we can all become great inclusive ambassadors.
For more information on the People First Language visit Kathie Snow's website with lots of great articles and information at: www.disabilityisnatural.com or go to the Independence Inc. website at www.independencecil.org or to The Arc and type in People First Language www.thearc.org
Let's Celebrate our Amazing Differences!