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Inclusion Column

The Importance of People First Language

Inclusion column by: Daniela Carrillo

Celebrating diversity and being an inclusive school helps everyone in our community to have open minds, caring hearts, and global leadership. To keep growing as an inclusive community, we must take a moment to reflect on how we refer to people with disabilities and become more conscious of our words. The way we describe a person with disabilities can have a great impact on the person’s self-image and on what other people think about them. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and the language we use can either support this or make a person feel unvalued. 

People First Language “is an objective way of acknowledging, communicating and reporting on disabilities. It eliminates generalizations, assumptions, and stereotypes by focusing on the person rather than the disability” (Texas Council of Developmental Disabilities, 2019). Using a more appropriate terminology can help us avoid negative terms that stereotype, devalue or discriminate.

People First Language refers to the person first and the disability second. An example is saying “a person with autism” instead of “autistic”. Using the term “special needs” can also influence people’s perceptions and generate pity, so it is better if we stop using it. We have to remember that we all have different needs. Other terms that are inappropriate are: “suffers from”, “victim of”, and “afflicted with” (Snow, 2009). The visual included below can help you with specific examples of People First Language. 

People with disabilities, just as anyone else, is looking to succeed in life and we all deserve to be seen for the things we CAN do, rather than the things we CAN’T do. Also, ask yourself if it’s relevant to mention a person’s disability when you are referring to them. If not, the best way to refer to someone is simply by their name. 

A diagnosis is not the most important characteristic of a person. Each one of us is a unique individual with hopes, dreams, likes, dislikes, talents, and areas of opportunities that make us grow every day. Our words can make a huge difference to make everyone feel valued and loved.