The Importance Of Person-First Language
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Politics and Activism

The Importance Of Person-First Language

Words are important -- choose yours differently.

The Importance Of Person-First Language

I have wanted to be a special education teacher for about two years now, so naturally I like to find different outlets that I can use to develop that interest. About a year ago, my dad let me sit in on a seminar his company did to discuss the general attitude towards disability in the work place. It covered conduct and understanding with the hopes of creating an environment of equality and acceptance. I've also followed blogs such as Special Books by Special Kids and Asperger's Syndrome Awareness: Bryan's Advocacy, both of which are great resources. Much of what I have gathered from these two resources, as well as others, is that identity is important, and disability is not identity. This was a key topic of interest in the seminar mentioned previously. All too often, no matter the situation, we reduce people with special needs to their disability without intending to. When you refer to a child with autism as "that autistic child" you define them by their autism, not by how they identify themselves. It's the same with saying "that deaf girl" or "the blind guy." It's unintentional, but it's destructive. This is why person-first language is such a big deal.

Person-first language is exactly what it sounds like; it is identifying a person as a person before their disability. Instead of saying "that deaf girl," you can refer to her as "a girl with a hearing impairment." Identity is a big part of modern society, and there's a much bigger emphasis on finding who we are on our own rather than abiding to social constructs. By referring to someone as their disability, we assign them an identity. We define them by their disability, therefore limiting them, and creating an unintentional attitude of prejudice. Disability tends to be one of those awkward subjects that we tiptoe around; we acknowledge it, even accept it, but we may not fully understand it. Person-first language serves as an outlet so that a person's identity remains their own, and they are not defined by a single aspect of who they are.

By referring to a person by their special need, we create a sense of isolation. It builds up barriers between those with special needs and those without. In order for society to progress in this aspect, it's important to get rid of those barriers. Person-first language is an important first step in that it does not create the single identity of a person with a special need. There's a sense of segregation between people with a special need and people without, and it's important for everyone that this be stopped. The idea of personal connection is associated with person-first language as well. It's difficult to form a connection with someone who feels confined when referred to as their disability. This is what breeds the sense of isolation. Person-first language allows a connection to form since it allows two people to explore a friendship based on mutual interests, rather than focusing on one physical aspect of someone with a special need. Leaving someone feeling isolated because of an identity defined by a physical aspect is unfair, and person-first language is a good first step in preventing this.

Awareness of disability and special needs can only carry us so far. It is possible to gain a surface knowledge of a concept, such as autism, but not understand it. There are many who view disorders like autism from an unemotional view, and they consider what knowledge they have as all the facts needed. It is this sort of false understanding that keeps society from breaking down the barriers between those with special needs and those without. In order to gain an actual understanding, we must first accept the uniqueness of every person's situation rather than making assumptions based on one physical aspect. Every person deserves to feel wanted and cared for, and defining someone by a disability is dangerous and creates stagnant social progress. In order to move forward and progress both from a social and educational standpoint, a greater emphasis must be placed on understanding of character rather than physical characteristics.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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