People-first language isn’t just semantics; it’s a way of referring to people with disabilities without intentionally or unintentionally expressing negative and disparaging attitudes. By using people-first language, we acknowledge the person (first) rather than the disability.
“Over the years bloggers, story tellers, and journalists have customarily reported in a manner that draws attention to the disability rather than the person—a wheelchair-bound tennis player, for example,” says Mark Odum, Director. “However, what makes the story isn’t the impairment but the person. We here at NARIC take pride in our ability to bring our readership stories such as a wrestler with no legs, a beauty queen with ASD, or a gymnast with one arm that prove as much.”
Our knowledge of the way our bodies work is ever-expanding. Illnesses once thought to be death sentences are now treatable, limits we once put on ourselves have become benchmarks we strive to surpass, and topics such as disability have gone from taboo to mainstream. Our culture has evolved, it’s only natural that our language follow suit.
The disability community continues to make strides in the maturation and institutionalizing of people-first language. Recently, the Associated Press highlighted the latest additions to its 2013 stylebook initiative to incorporate people-first language when referring to people with disabilities. The AP and other mainstream outlets have embraced the guidelines developed by the NIDRR-funded University of Kansas Research and Training Center on Independent Living in Guidelines: How to Write and Report About People with Disabilities (PDF), now in its 8th edition
Disability is no longer something to be feared. Tolerance and “don’t stare” mentalities are no longer suitable substitutes for acceptance. By putting the person-first as we have been taught to do regarding other issues of equality (i.e. gender, ethnic, racial), we recognize that disability doesn’t mean less than equal as we are all, people, first. People first language isn’t a new form of appeasement or political correctness but the fruition of acceptance.