Tuesday, July 21, 2009

People First Language

People First Language is a concept where people use a thoughtful and considered way of talking about people with disabilities. It is also considered polite and respectful.

Typical people have learned many things form people with disabilities. It has only been in the past roughly 20 years that people with disabilities have consistently been living to retirement age. Surprisingly one of the things we have learned by people with disabilities approaching old age is that they consider their disability as only part of who they are. Just like a hobby or job or any other role they may have in life.

After all I do not want to be only known by some of my characteristics. How much fun would it be to only be known at that short grey headed square lady with glasses! I am so much more than that and so is my child. She likes animals, she works, she likes to go to the local soccer games, and she happens to have autism.

The technique of using People First Language is to put the person first and them the disability. An example is the child with autism, not the autistic child. Another example is the man who uses a wheelchair for mobility, not the wheelchair bound man.

Another benefit of people with disabilities aging has been changes in the fabric of government agencies. Many federal and state agencies are now required to use People First Language. People with disabilities have risen to different levels in agencies and have made their mark at least in the way they are referred to.

One of the tales of how People First Language was started goes back to World War I. After that war and other wars some veterans returned home with various degrees of disability. It is believed that men would be on streets with their hat in their hands asking for help. People passing would throw a few coins into the cap, hence the term handi-capped. Later people took exception to the term handicapped especially when applied to people. Even later came People First terminology.

As the parent of a child with autism and also a person who works in the system I choose to use People First Language. Not everyone I come into contact makes the same choice. Some of the parents I run into do not know or understand the concept.

At first I have to admit that I would get upset. I suppose as I have gotten older I have developed a different outlook. Modeling People Fist Language without being upset has been very effective. Some parents even automatically start using that way of speaking about their children. With professionals and other parents I wait till I know them better. Then I choose a good time to mention I want to talk about it. To date I have never gotten a bad response with this technique. As a matter of fact some of the professionals I know consciously work at it and ask me for help!

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