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Speak Out for Change With First Person Language
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Speak Out for Change With First Person Language

In the communications profession, every day I see the power that communication holds in shaping our perceptions of the world around us.

Communication is the process of sharing information, whether it be through the use of words, actions, attitudes, symbols, or behaviors. These tools with which we choose to communicate play a huge role in forming our thoughts and opinions. The idea behind People-First language ties into the communication theory the idea that the words with which we choose to express ourselves, can change the way we think about our lives.

Some say People-First language is a matter of political correctness. However, as a woman with a disability and a communications professional, I find it fascinating how these two concepts blend together. I wanted to share some of the ways in which I have seen how the positive power of People-First language can shape the world's perceptions about people with disabilities.

We all communicate or come into contact with strangers every day, often several times a day. If we take the opportunity with each of those interactions to be conscious of our communication, we might just be able to change negative perceptions or misconceptions about disabilities, one word at a time. Take the following examples of practical People-First language. Take a look at how the first column has negative or even dehumanizing connotations because the words emphasize the disability in a negative light, rather than acknowledging the person before their disability, which is shown in the second column.

"Suffering" from a condition vs. "A person with said condition."

"Confined" to a wheelchair vs. "A person who uses a wheelchair."

"Paraplegic" vs. "A person with Paraplegia."

Whether we like it or not, as people with disabilities, we represent not only ourselves, but the culture of disability in our communities.

And yes, I know that some days this is an unwelcome inheritance, but everybody is fighting some sort of stereotype. Stereotypes are a natural human experience, but are often rooted in misconception or misinformation. While stereotypes can be negatively projected onto us, we also have the power to either help perpetuate them or help change them and the way we choose to communicate can be the first step!

Change starts with us! The way we communicate, including the words we choose, can let our personalities shine through. Then we just might be able to break down stereotypes. Can you imagine what the world might be like without some of these common negative disability stereotypes:

  • "incapable"
  • "dependent"
  • "sickly"
  • "needy"
  • "unfortunate"
  • "challenged"
  • or even "inspirational"?

Using words that put ourselves and other members of the disability community first, can make a huge impact on driving positive change and breaking down these misconceptions and stereotypes. Speaking up when we hear negative words or phrases being used to talk about disability is another way we can change perceptions.

Let's help contribute to change! Communication and language can be our first step!

Leave a Comment

  1. Eve Sherrill York
    Good stuff. Voted
    Log in to reply.

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