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Inclusion Column

People First Language
written by Ana Paula Villarreal

A key message I have always believed in is that the language we use to express ourselves shapes our own reality. Our words reflect our attitudes, which in turn, shape our actions. As we become more inclusive at ASFM, we must remember that the language we use has to reflect this.

When talking about people that have some kind of disability, there is a common practice of using “people first” language. Although it is always best to consider what the actual person likes to be referred to, using people first language is usually a respectful way to refer to a person with a disability. In People First Language, we put the person before their disability when referring to them. Just as you wouldn’t call a child with a blue backpack by his accessory, we refer to a person with any characteristic as ‘a person with’ that attribute. For example, instead of using “He’s Down’s”, we can say “He has Down Syndrome”. Instead of “They’re autistic”, “They have autism/They are on the autism spectrum” is much better use of language. Sometimes, when we use words like “mentally delayed”, “handicapped”, or “disturbed”, we are unaware of the implications of our words. When we talk about someone by describing them by only one of their characteristics, we are disregarding their value as a whole person and as a unique individual. With this same idea, it can be considered insulting to call people without disabilities as “normal” or “healthy”. A disability is not an illness, and it is definitely not an abnormality. A diverse population includes people who all hear, see, move, think, and live differently, and we should recognize that all people with disabilities are part of this beautiful assortment. When we refer to parking, seating, restrooms, or other places that some may call ‘handicapped’, we would like to encourage our community to use the word ‘accessible’. In fact, that is what these are, options that are accessible to different individuals. People First Language is universal, and applies to any language, so these guidelines are also recommended when we communicate in Spanish. Below is a link with more examples of People First Language. We encourage you to start modeling this language in the classroom/at home and educating or reminding your peers and family to use it as well. By acknowledging the power of words in shaping our world, we can make the conscious effort to build the atmosphere at ASFM as a truly inclusive one.

First Language Chart