Redefining Disability: Language

Do you have preferred language when it comes to disability? — There is a lot of debate about appropriate language and definitions of disability.

Hello again!

How is everyone today? Where I live, the school year is almost at an end. The students are taking standardized tests through Thursday and getting out two hours early each day. As a substitute teacher, I am unsure how it all will affect me. I guess I’ll find out in about an hour 😀

Today’s question is about preferred language in reference to people who have disabilities. Oops, I think I just let the cat out of the bag! For some reason, this question reminded me of a class I took some time ago about language and disability.

I was taught that there a vast difference between these two phrases: “autistic boy” and “a boy who has autism”.  Can you guess the difference? They both have about the same words but word order is different. That slight shift in order is responsible for where one places emphasis–on disability or the person.

In my family, there were certain words that were better left unspoken. They included: depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and autoimmune disease. The stigma seemed to heavy of a burden to share even among family members. Yet, we were all affected by at least one of these disorders.

Looking back, that denial lead me to assume that if I had one of these labels, that I was somehow defective. Years later I discovered that in my case, depression and anxiety was the result of events (genetic, psychological and/or environmental) that weren’t my fault. In other words, I didn’t cause my disability–I just have to live with it.

It that point–that I didn’t cause it–that should be emphasized in language, not my disability.  People-first language (as in “my friend who has schizophrenia”) references the value of my friend as a person. She is a person–to be loved and respected–much more than a diagnosis or disability. By saying “the girl who has borderline personality disorder” or “the boy with intellectual disability,” emphasis is on the disability not the person who is much more than a label.

The Takeaway?

Be mindful of your words because they have the power to shape how you see the world. There is no excuse for ignorance. If you have a question about person first language, there are multitudes of resources out there that will answer  those questions. An example of a quality article about people first language is from the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities titled “People First Language.”

Take care my friends until we meet again

Every week I answer another question about my disability from Redefining Disability, a creation of Rose b. Fischer. I do this in order to continue my healing process as well as doing my part to create an open dialogue about disabilities. Thank you for listening. If you want to share your story, please join us!



3 thoughts on “Redefining Disability: Language

  1. Great post! I am definitely an advocate of people first language. Thank you for helping others to make these distinctions!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember when I first started learning about person-first language, and now I make a point to use it and to tell others about it. I didn’t even realize how often people say “autistic” rather than “with autism” but now it bothers me.

    Liked by 1 person

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