First Person Language

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General Guidelines

  • Do not refer to a person’s disability unless it is relevant to the conversation.
  • Use the word “disability” rather than “handicap” to refer to a person’s disability. Never use “cripple/crippled”.
  • Avoid referring to people with disabilities as “the disabled, the blind, the epileptics, the retarded.” Descriptive terms should be used as adjectives, not as nouns.
  • Avoid negative or sensational descriptions of a person’s disability. Don’t say “suffers from, a victim of, or afflicted with.” These portrayals elicit unwanted sympathy, or worse, pity toward individuals with disabilities. Respect and acceptance is what people with disabilities prefer.
  • Don’t use “normal” or “able-bodied” to describe people who do not have disabilities. It is better to say “people without disabilities,” if necessary to make comparisons.
  • When referring to a person’s disability, use “People First Language.” Why Should You Use People First Language? People who have disabilities are present in every aspect of society. They are:
    • sons and daughters
    • moms and dads
    • employees and co-workers
    • friends and neighbors
    • students and teachers Most importantly, they are people first.

Making the Change to People First Language

  • “handicapped” or “disabled” should be replaced with “people with disabilities”
  • “he/she is wheelchair bound” or “he/she is confined to a wheelchair” should be replaced with “he/she uses a wheelchair”
  • “he/she has a birth defect” should be replaced with “he/she has a congenital disability”
  • “handicapped” in reference to parking, bathrooms, rooms etc. should be replaced with “accessible”
  • “he/she is retarded ” should be replaced with “he/she has a cognitive disability or mental retardation”
Language is power. Our words have the power to inspire, motivate, and uplift people.

The information provided above is taken directly from the Best Buddies International Peer Buddy Training on People First Language.

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