Tagged with: advocate awareness disabilities research
A professional that I highly respect recently used the phrase ‘dysfunction’ to describe my walking issues. When I hear terms like ‘dysfunction’, I start to think in boxes:
|Disability Centered—Focuses on deficits and labels||Person-Centered—Focuses on capabilities and strengths|
A Disability-Centered perspective and approach categorizes and classifies based upon deficits. A Person-Centered perspective and approach promotes the strengths and capabilities of an individual. Language can be the conduit between a Person-Centered perspective and a Disability-Centered perspective.
Recently I re-read one of my favorite articles called “How are your Person First Skills?” by Carol Russell. The article details Person-First Philosophy and practice. Person-First is a concept and approach which promotes diversity through the active use of language. In the context of language, Person-First means using words which recognize a person first -in the circumstance of disability – and puts the ideas of ‘impairment’ and diagnosis second.[i]
The Health, Medical, Fitness, and Wellness fields have an ongoing and recurring debate about disability frameworks and terminology. In the context of academics and research, the way that I move is classified by terms like ‘impairment’ and ‘dysfunction’. When I looked up the word ‘dysfunction’, the definition listed was “abnormal function”. Similarly, the definition of the word ‘impairment’ was “causing to diminish, as in strength, value, or quality.”
Language is powerful and can label. Research by Fraser and Gallop (1993) concludes that “labeling or a diagnosis alone tends to influence people’s perceptions”. The language we use and our word choices related to disabilities have the power to change perceptions or can reinforce stereotypes.
A few years ago, I studied the origin of the term ‘Handicapped’ and had the basis of the concept confirmed once more by Carol Russell’s article. The origin ‘Handicapped’ is “from an Old English bartering game, wherein the loser was left with his ‘hand in his cap’[ii]. Carol Russell concludes the reference to ‘handicapped’ supports a long-standing stereotype of people with disabilities begging, with a “cap in hand”.[iii]
One of the hallmarks of Person-First Philosophy and practice is to refer to a person first, using words like ‘person with a disability’ compared to ‘The Disabled’ or ‘Handicapped’. Carol Russell and others point out that Disability-Centered terms, like ‘handicapped’, are antiquated and yet the words are still being used.
Words like ‘dysfunction’, ‘impairment’, ‘handicapped’ and many others create a mindset of difference and separateness – people with disabilities versus people without disabilities.
There have been multiple articles written which encourage the Health, Medical, Fitness, and Wellness fields and the professionals within them to move away from a Disability-Centered perspective and approach.
The alternative is one which instead frames disability in the context of diversity using language, terms, and approaches which embrace the individual, their culture, and beliefs. I advocate for Person-Centered versus Disability Centered because Person-Centered actions and approaches equalize versus separate and focus on strengths versus diminishing people with disabilities.
The question that I grapple with every day is how do individuals with disabilities and professionals concretely move away from a Disability-Centered mindset to a Person-Centered mind-set? The question that Carol Russell poses, “How are your Person First Skills?” is one that I also ask, with the following insertion – “How are your Person-Centered Skills?”
[i] Russell, C. L. (2008). How Are Your Person First Skills?. Teaching Exceptional Children, 40(5), 40-43.
[ii] Russell, C. L. (2008). How Are Your Person First Skills?. Teaching Exceptional Children, 40(5), 40-43.
[iii] Russell, C. L. (2008). How Are Your Person First Skills?. Teaching Exceptional Children, 40(5), 40-43.