As a writer, I have a particular love of language. So I was quite surprised to discover that our disability-centered textbooks, No Pity and Claiming Disability for my Introduction to Disabilities class at UC Berkeley are not written in person first language. As an undergrad in Human Development in the late 90’s, person first language was seriously drilled into my head. I remember getting several papers back stained with red ink comments such as, “The person should always come before the disability!” And, “Please use: people WITH disabilities.” At first, I found this wording awkward and cumbersome. Yet, as a person with a disability, I saw the point of the movement. Sure, my stunning personality should come before my “incidental” disability. We should focus on the whole person.
Then, I started reading the material for this class and remembered something that I knew as truth all along. Society does not recognize my disability as merely incidental. It’s the first thing they see when I roll out my front door or the first thing they hear when they answer my call. It forms the basis of practically all their preconceptions. So it does seem logical that disability studies would put the emphasis back on disabilities. As a group, disabled people do share a long history of unique cultural experiences. There is a certain personal power that comes from a strong group identity. I am just beginning to tap into that power.
Another related topic that I always find both relevant and interesting is the “proper” way to address a disabled person. Personally, I like the word gimp. It’s short, user friendly, and has a certain un-PC shock value. Most of all, it reminds me that it’s okay, and sometimes kind of cool, to be different. Yet I know many people with disabilities who are offended by words like gimp and crip. I understand that words hold strong connotations for people, and oddly enough, group identification is a personal choice. People get hung up on words and often forget about context and intent. Sometimes however, I can still see a use for person first language. After all, how often is a disability the main focus of daily conversation? I guess I have not fully converted from my person first ways. How do you choose to identity yourself as a person with a disability?