People First language and Other Disability Labels

People first language and other disability labels

Today, I’d like to talk a little bit about people first language and other disability labels.

People first language first appeared onto the disability advocacy scene in 1988.

It was invented as a way to respectfully refer to people who have disabilities or other special needs.

The idea behind using people first language is to take the focus off a person’s disability, diagnosis, or label and place it instead on the whole person.

People first language is supposed to eliminate stereotypes and promote positive attitudes about those who have disabilities and special needs.

The words that people in a community choose to describe people with disabilities will naturally reflect how they feel about those who have disabilities.

These words and descriptions will influence and shape how others in that same community will come to feel about those who have disabilities.

People first language and other disability labels
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It has recently come to my attention that people first language was not actually invented by people who have disabilities.

It was invented by those who do NOT have disabilities, diagnoses, special needs, and/or labels and it was invented without any input from the disabled community it was intended to help.

It has also recently come to my attention that there are a whole lot of people with disabilities who do not agree that people first language is respectful.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is declaring that they want nothing decided about them without them.!

People first language dictates that we must say, “person with autism” rather than “autistic person”

But I have found that many in the autistic community actually prefer being described as being an autistic person.

I’m told they feel this way because being autistic is a large part of their identity and it cannot be separated from them.

They want the world to know that being autistic is not something bad or a condition that needs to be cured.


My daughter, Bethany has quite a few disabilities, diagnoses, special needs, and labels

If I was to describe her using people first language, I would say that she has autism, epilepsy, a brain injury, she is developmentally delayed, and she has special needs.

If I was not using people first language, I might describe her as being autistic, epileptic, brain damaged, mentally retarded, and that she is a special needs person.

As a blogger and vlogger who writes and about films our lives together, being respectful when I refer to her in my writing and with what I film about her is of great concern to me.

I would never knowingly harm my own daughter because I love her with all my heart!

Neither would I ever intentionally offend or hurt others who have disabilities.

But, to be quite frank, I am having a bit of difficulty trying to keep up with the current proper terminology!

To me, a word is just a word.

Words are neither good nor bad in and of themselves.

Words only become bad when bad people purposely use them in a derogatory way.

Words only become bad when bad people purposely use them to hurt others.

I am 57 years old.

When I was a child, the word, “retarded” was not invented to be used in a derogatory manner.

It was a medical diagnosis.

The words, “retard” and “retarded” were turned into bad words by bad people.

Since I would never want my daughter or others like her to be hurt by words, I will never, and prefer that others never use the “R” word.

But I personally don’t care if someone refers to Bethany as being disabled or as the girl with disabilities.

I really don’t care if someone refers to her as being autistic or as the girl with autism.

I honestly don’t care if someone refers to her as being the special needs girl or as the girl who has special needs.

And since Bethany is totally oblivious to what anyone is calling her anyway, or what any of those labels actually mean,  I highly doubt that she has a preference of how she would like to be referred to as either!

In all honesty, it’s not about the labels themselves.

It’s all about the attitude and intent behind the labels.

I’ve decided that I’m no longer going to worry about using proper people first language in my writings or in our videos anymore!

Though, I’m sure someone, somewhere, somehow will have a problem with that!!

I am going to just keep on doing what I’ve been doing…

Showing the world that my daughter, Bethany, is a beautiful, brave, courageous, intelligent, awesome, funny, sweet, determined, triumphant, and all around amazing young woman who has overcome great odds and many obstacles to create quite the happy, satisfying, productive, and meaningful little life for herself!

Just watch the video below to see what I mean!

*A version of this post was originally published on 2/26/2016 and contains affiliate links.

You May also be interested in: My Opinion of Applied Behavior Analysis.
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5 Replies to “People First language and Other Disability Labels

  1. Thank you for the article – I agree 100%! Intent is important, not syntax. The people first people that really bother me are the ones where the parents are bending over backwards to avoid saying their child’s diagnosis – “X is a child who loves sports, ice cream, and riding in cars, and also happens to have autism.” I, too, have heard that disabled individuals prefer not to have people-first language used, and it makes sense, but I always wonder if the other parents judge me for calling my daughter blind instead of saying she’s a child with visual impairments.

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