Autistic. The Downs Girl.
Special Ed Kids.
The "slow" boy.
Are you cringing yet?
You should be. A lot of words that we use in society are not just incorrect, but hurtful. Maybe you say some of these things and do not realize they are incorrect. You probably use some of these words, but you "don't mean it that way."
What's wrong with saying things that seem pretty normal? It is what it is, and you are just saying what they are, right?
Wrong. People should never be defined by their disabilities. "Person-First Language" is a movement familiar to anyone who works in education, occupational therapy or loves someone with a disability. Person-First Language means that you always acknowledge the person first, then their disability, if necessary. You don't know any autistic boys, but you probably know some boys with Autism. You don't know any Down people, but you know some pretty cool people with Down Syndrome. The same goes for mentally ill people: they are people with mental illnesses.
People are always people first. Then they are people with disabilities. Why define someone as 'autistic' when they are a smart, athletic, loving, and generous human who happens to have autism? After all, are you talking to a disability, or are you talking to a person? You are not talking to Down Syndrome, ADHD, Depression, a wheelchair, Autism or any other condition. You are talking to a child, student, camper, co-worker, employee, brother, sister, or friend who might use a wheelchair or have a disability.
Patti Mcvay is an education expert who has a great way of thinking for when you are not sure how to correctly speak about someone.
- Think of something that you don’t like about yourself, that society has also deemed less desirable.
- Now take that word and put it in front of your name and imagine being called that word plus your name. Fat Sarah. Or Big-Nosed Katie. Annoying Voice Kevin. Short Tim.
That should put it in perspective. No, these things do not define you and are not flaws, just like people with disabilities are not flawed or defined by their disability. But do we want these to be acknowledged before who we are as a person is acknowledged? Not likely. Essentially, you should just remember that a person's disability should never turn into an adjective to describe them.
Terms like "mentally challenged," "handicapped," and "slow" are just unnecessary. They might have been correct in previous generations, but they are not acceptable anymore. When it comes to using the r-word, most users respond with "It's just slang," or "I don't mean it that way when I say it." But there's a reason that so many people are pledging against the r-word. It is negative, derogatory, and exclusive. Maybe it isn't a big deal to you, but it is important to individuals who are disrespected by the term.
Put effort into giving people the respect they deserve. Think before you speak. Acknowledge all individuals, whether they are four or 80 years old, big or small, talented or unique, with respectful language and attitudes.
To learn more about Person-First Language, visit: National Inclusion Project.