Person-first language (PFL) is a way of speaking that respects the individual, their equality and the dignity of people with disabilities.
In the 1980s, the disability advocates wanted to end degrading language, which was mostly used within the medical field. They called for an end to language based on deficits and abnormalities. Instead, they wanted language focused on the assets, dignity and experience of the person with a disability.
PFL respects the integrity and identity of people with disabilities. But it is also important never to generalize.
Remember, we are all individuals. We have unique experiences. When talking about language and the power of words, every human experience is valid and worthy of dignity and respect.
PFL reversed many of the negative biases related to disability. But the journey to equality is not over. The root of PFL lies in our own experience. When we engage with others, we should place ourselves humbly in the position of the learner.
In other words, follow the lead of people with disabilities. Hear how they refer to themselves and others with disabilities.
Some adults with autism and most of the deaf community don’t follow PFL for their own reasons. This will ensure that we are truly valuing not only people with disabilities, but all individuals.
Learn more information about PFL and its use in these articles.