Over the course of our lives we say and do things that make us wonder what we were thinking or, in my case, why was I not thinking. Such was the case when I submitted an article that used non-person-first language. This is coming from a person that HAS A DISABILITY. Needless to say, my supervisors and I were left to wonder what I was thinking, if anything at all. I could make excuses for my momentary loss of perspective, but at the end of the day I made a mistake that I wish could be taken away. Since that cannot happen all I can do is apologize to anyone that I may have offended. My actions were without any merit or plausibility. My initial feelings were of regret, disappointment, and embarrassment. I don’t believe I was put on this earth to hurt or disservice anyone. However, I did. The only thing for me to do, after offering an apology, is to make sure that I do not make the same mistake twice. The only way this can happen is to always use person-first terminology when editing, writing, or speaking to and about people with disabilities.
Person-first terminology is used when describing a person with a disability. Speak of the person first and their disability second. An example would be to say “Bob, who has a disability,” as opposed to “disabled Bob.” You would think I would have known this since I was actually referred to in a newspaper article as a handicapped graduate. Unfortunately, in our society we deal with people, like me, who forget, overlook or just plain lose their minds when dealing with such important issues.
This is the 21st century. Now is the time that people with disabilities be presented in positive images and words that reflect their abilities and reveal the conscience of a nation that symbolizes civil rights. Very important partners in this process are the video and newsprint media. Many times heart-warming, fuzzy, and inspirational stories focus on the tragic events that led one to acquire a disability. This underlying message highlights the disability aspect of a person rather than their abilities and accomplishments. A perceived quality of limited abilities can foster an attitude of sympathy and pity. Another aspect of media that can be misguided is the promoting of people with disabilities as super humans. This sets a false standard of expectation that people with disabilities are above humanity and not prone to error.
Henceforth, there is an opportunity to change archaic customs. Public awareness, campaigns by corporate America, activism, laws, and knowledge of disability rights have helped stave off perpetual old beliefs and attitudes that were part of our culture. Still, can we eliminate the worst experiences or stereotypes that are spoken, written or on video? Is that possible?
In the end, the objective is to treat people with the ultimate respect, courtesy, and dignity that everyone deserves. Not everyone will get it right (see me), but the more we hold ourselves accountable, the more we seek to promote people and their ability, the closer we come to achieving the goal of living in a world where we place the Person First.
Here are some resources to help all of us use person-first language: