person first language?



Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

Why do you use person first language? I usually only see bigoted ableist people use pfl. What convinced you that pfl was the best choice for you (and other disabled people, since you use pfl to refer to disabled people generally)?

realsocialskills said:

I actually use both more or less interchangeably, except when I’m talking about or to a group that has a clearly expressed preference. (Eg: I don’t ever say “people with deafness” when I’m talking about Deaf people, I don’t ever say “intellectually disabled people” when I’m talking about people with intellectual disabilities, and when I’m talking about the autistic community associated with ANI/ASAN/AACC/ I don’t say “people with autism”). Mostly, though, I use whatever is more grammatically comfortable in the sentence I’m saying. 

When I am talking about things that apply to more than one group, I usually find it easier to say “people with disabilities”, because it’s the most straightforward way to express that I’m talking about more than one thing. I think it also is clearer as a way for me to acknowledge that a lot of people have more than one disability.

Also, person-first language is not only preferred by ableist bigots; it’s also preferred by important groups of people who are actively fighting ableism. It’s pretty strongly preferred by many people who are trying to emphasize their humanity in the face of people who only see them as a disability case study. I wrote a post about this a while back about the autism-specific politics of person first language.

I respect all of the disability-affirmitive reasons that some people prefer to be called disabled and all the disability-affirimitve reasons that some people prefer to be called people with disabilities. I don’t have a particular position on who is right. My own preferences for myself shift a lot, and depend a lot on context. I mostly just use whatever language people around me are using, unless I feel like they’re using language specifically to express contempt.

 andreashettle said:

I think it’s worth being aware that preferences can vary from one country to another.  In the UK, there tends to be a very strong preference for identity-first language, and for using the word “disabled” rather than “people with disabilities.”  In the UK context, the word “disabled” more specifically means “disabled BY ACCESSIBILITY BARRIERS IN THE ENVIRONMENT”.  So in the UK context, the word “disabled” is very much steeped in the entire social model concept of what a disability IS—it’s not just an impairment in the body, it’s accessibility barriers imposed upon us by our environment.

Meanwhile, “person first” language was first originated BY PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES in the United States, more specifically people with intellectual disabilities.  It has come to be adopted by the wider cross-disability movement in the United States and also in many other English-speaking countries (NOT the UK, but elsewhere) and also in Spanish-speaking countries (in Spanish, “personas con discapacidades”).  And, yes, I do mean organizations and communities led by people with disabilities ourselves, NOT just the parents or professionals.  Check the website of the American Association of People with Disabilities, for example: most staff and board of directors there are people with disabilities. Many Americans with disabilities are offended by the term “disabled”: they don’t view the term as being specific to the context of being disabled by an inaccessible environment, they view it as a term that puts emphasis on their impairment over their person hood. 

However, in the U.S., parents/family/professionals who are not in the habit of working closely with disability-led groups actually don’t use the “person with disabilities” language, they’re more likely to use terminology like “people with special needs” (which many Americans with disabilities dislike).   U.S. based parents/professionals who do say “people with disabilities” usually learned that from the disability-led cross-disability community in the U.S. (or U.S.-influenced countries)

As Real Social Skills points out, there are some specific disability communities in the U.S. and elsewhere that has come to prefer identity first language including signing people who identity as members of the culturally Deaf community, autistic people, some blind people, etc.  But in most cross-disability contexts in the U.S., person-first language does continue to prevail among people with disabilities themselves, and is NOT the exclusive domain of ableist people refusing to listen to leaders with disabilities.  So before accusing someone of being ableist for preferring person-first language, find out what country they’re from and who they learned that language from.  They may have learned it from Americans with disabilities.

Same thing for Americans who become offended when someone uses the word “disabled”.  No, “disabled” does not always mean the same thing it means in the U.S., and is not the exclusive domain of ableist people. Before being offended, find out what country they’re from and where they learned it: they may have learned it from disabled people in the UK.

Anyone insisting that only ableist people use person-first language, I would have to guess is probably from the UK where person-first language apparently never took hold.  Or else they might be from a country whose disability movement continues to be heavily influenced by the UK.   (I’ve been told by a few people that there are SOME segments of the disabled community in the UK that have started using U.S.-influenced “person first” language.  But based on what I’ve seen online—not only Tumblr but also other forums—I don’t get the sense that this has reached the grassroots level).

When you start looking more globally, beyond just the US and the UK, U.S.-influenced person-first language has been adopted by a lot of the global cross-disability movement, for example check the International Disability Alliance (IDA), which is an umbrella organization for various international disability-led organizations (aside from a couple of international organizations of families of people with intellectual disabilities, all its member organizations are led by CEOs and board of directors who are predominantly people with disabilities themselves).  Some of its member organizations, like the World Federation of the Deaf, do prefer identity-first language, though others (for example, the European Disability Forum) use person-first.  IDA, like most of its member organizations, is itself a disability-led organization.

But even internationally the picture gets muddled: Disabled People International, for example … well, you see from its name!

realsocialskills said:

This is a very important addition. Thank you.