- To achieve
- and FREEDOM
- for people with
- we must use
- People First
- A commentary by Kathie
- The difference between the right word and the
almost right word is the difference between lightning and the
- Mark Twain
- The beginning of wisdom is to call things by
their right names.
- Old Chinese Proverb
- Who are the handicapped . . . the
- Societys myths tell us they
- people who suffer from the
tragedy of birth defects . . .
- paraplegic heroes
struggling to become normal . .
- victims of diseases
fighting to regain their lives . . .
- categorically . . . the disabled,
the retarded, the autistic, the blind, the deaf, the learning
disabled and more.
- Who are they, really?
- They are moms and dads and sons and daughters
. . . employees and employers .. scientists (Stephen Hawking) . .
. friends and neighbors . . . movie stars (Marlee Matlin) . . .
leaders and followers . . . students and teachers . . .they are .
. . people. They are people.
- They are people, first.
- Are you myopic or do you wear
- Are you cancerous or do you have
- Are you freckled or do you have
- Are you handicapped/disabled or do you have a
- People First Language
describes what a person HAS, not what a person IS!
- People First Language puts
the person before the disability.
- Disability has been defined as a body function
that operates differently.
- Contrast that meaning with:
- A published origin of handicap
refers to hand in cap, a game where winners were
penalized or put at a disadvantage.
- A legendary origin of the word refers to a
person with a disability having to beg on the street with
cap in hand.
Disabled, or People with Disabilities:
- Which description is more
- Using the handicapped, and even
the disabled, usually evokes negative feelings
(sadness, pity, fear, and more) and creates a stereotypical
perception that people with disabilities are all alike. All people
who have brown hair are not alike. All people who have
disabilities are not alike.
- Many people who have disabilities would never
think of themselves as handicapped.
- The disability community is the largest
minority group in our country. It includes people of both genders
and from all religions, ethnic backgrounds, and socioeconomic
levels. About the only things people with disabilities have in
common with one another are 1) having a body function that
operates differently and 2) facing prejudice and discrimination.
Unique to the disability community is that its the only
minority group that any American can join in the split second of
- If/when it happens to you, will you have more
in common with others with disabilities or with your family,
friends, and co-workers?
- The Disability Rights Movement is following in
the footsteps of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and
the Womens Movement of the 70s. While people with
disabilities and advocates work to end discrimination and
segregation in education, employment, and our communities at
large, we must all work to end the prejudicial language that
creates an invisible barrier to being included in the ordinary
mainstream of life.
- Disability is a natural condition of the
- The U.S. Developmental Disabilities Act and
The Bill of Rights Act, 1993
- Disability is not the problem. We
need to rid ourselves of the word problem when talking
about peoples needs! A person who wears glasses doesnt
walk around saying, I have a problem seeing. She would
say, I wear (need) glasses. Recognize that a
problem is really a need.
- The real problem is attitudinal
- There have always been people with
disabilities in our world and there always will be.
- If educators - and our society at large
- perceived children with disabilities as individuals who have the
potential to learn, who have the need to the same education as
their brothers and sisters, and who have a future in the adult
world of work, we wouldnt have to fight for inclusive
- If employers - and our society at large
- believed adults with disabilities have valuable job skills
(because they received a quality education), we wouldnt have
to fight for real jobs for real pay in the real
- If business owners - and our society at
large - viewed people with disabilities as consumers with money to
spend (because theyre wag earners), we wouldnt have to
fight for accessible entrances and other
- Many people who do not now have a disability
will have one in the future.
- Others will have a family member or friend who
acquires a disability. If you acquire a disability in your
lifetime, how will you want to be described? How will you want to
be treated? Disability issues are issues that affect all
- Using People First Language is
a crucial issue.
- If people with disabilities are to be included
in all aspects of our communities - in the very ordinary, very
wonderful, very typical activities most people take for granted -
then they must talk about themselves in the very ordinary, very
wonderful, very typical language other people use about
- Children with disabilities are children,
first. The only labels they need are their names! Parents must not
talk about their children in the clinical terms used by medical
- A disability label is simply a medical
- Since the parent of a child who wears glasses
(medical diagnosis: myopia) doesnt say, My daughter is
myopic., why does the parent of a child who has a medical
diagnosis of mental retardation say, My daughter is
- Adults with disabilities are adults, first.
The only labels they need are their names! They must not talk
about themselves the way service providers talk about
- A disability label is simply a medical
- Since an adult with a medical diagnosis of
cancer doesnt say, Im cancerous., why does
an adult with a medical diagnosis of cerebral palsy say,
- In our society, handicapped &
disabled are all-encompassing terms that are
- People with hearing or vision
impairments dont need handicapped or
disabled parking or restrooms. People with mobility
impairments do need accessible parking and restrooms.
- If a handicapped or
disabled entrance has a ramp for people who use
wheelchairs, does the doorway have Braille signage for people with
- Accommodations that enable people with
disabilities to access a facility - regardless of their
disabilities - are accessible!
- Disabled is not acceptable,
either. Our society corrupts the meaning of certain
words. When the traffic report mentions a traffic jam, youll
often hear, Theres a disabled vehicle on the
highway. Disabled, in that context, means
broken down. People with disabilities are not
- If a new toaster doesnt work, we
return it, say Its defective, and get a new one!
Do we do that with babies who have birth defects? The
accurate term is congenital disability.
- When we understand the meanings of words and
how theyre misused, we realize they are the tip of the
iceberg of inappropriate and unacceptable language.
- When people with disabilities are referred to
by their medical diagnoses, we have devalued them as human beings.
When we devalue others, we devalue ourselves.
- When we start calling things by their right
names, when we recognize that people with disabilities are people
first, we can begin to see how people with disabilities are more
like people without disabilities than they are different. When we
understand that disability labels are simply medical diagnoses, we
can put them in their proper perspective. People who wear glasses
are not the myopic; people with cancer are not
- My son, Benjamin, is 11 years old. He loves
the Lone Ranger, ice cream, and playing on the computer. He
- blonde hair, blue eyes, and cerebral palsy.
His disability is only one small piece of his life. For many
people with disabilities, their medical diagnoses define who they
- When I introduce myself to people I dont
tell them Ill never be a prima ballerina. Like others, I
focus on my strengths, the things I do well, not on what I
cant do. Dont you do the same?
- I dont say, My son cant
write with a pencil. I say, My son uses a computer to
do his school work. I dont say, My son
cant walk. I say, My son uses a walker and a
wheelchair. And Benjamin isnt wheelchair
bound. Hes free when he uses it - free to go when and
where he wants to go!
- We know that a persons self-image is
strongly tied to the words used to describe that person.
Weve been told that descriptions can become a self-
fulfilling prophecy. If a child is told she is stupid or slow or
lazy, she will probably become that. If told shes brilliant,
shell probably become that.
- People with disabilities, having been
described by their medical diagnoses all their lives, often must
convince themselves that they are capable and have potential for
success. Parents must convince themselves and their children that
their kids are capable and have potential for success. If you
dont believe in yourself, its hard for others to
believe in you!
- We have the power to change all this for
current and future generations. People First Language can change
how people with disabilities feel about themselves. People First
Language can change how society views and treats people with
- Benjamin goes ballistic when he hears
handicapped. I hope when hes grown, labels will
- People First Language is
right. Just do it - NOW!
- Examples of People First Language
- Labels Not to Use People First
- the handicapped or disabled people with
- the mentally retarded people with mental
- hes retarded he has a cognitive
- my son is autistic my son has
- shes a Downs kid, a Mongoloid she has
- hes learning disabled he has a learning
- Im a paraplegic I have
- shes crippled she has a physical
- she has a mobility impairment
- hes a dwarf (or midget) hes of
- shes emotionally disturbed she has an
- hes wheelchair bound or he uses a
- confined to a wheelchair or a mobility
- normal and/or healthy kids typical kids or
kids without disabilities
- hes in special ed he receives special ed
- birth defect congenital disability
- handicapped parking, bathrooms, etc.
accessible parking, bathrooms, etc.
- she has a problem with . . . she has a need
for . . .
- Keep thinking! There are lots more examples
- And practice, practice, practice. Old
habits die hard!
- This document may be copied in its
entirety. As a courtesy, please let me
- know youll be using
- Kathie Snow, 250 Sunnywood Lane, Woodland
Park, CO 80863-9434
- Voice 719-687-8194, Fax 687-8114, e-mail:
- (Rev. 1/98)
- Page updated: 4/98
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