Society changes over time. We learn to be better. This is a good thing. We know the importance of equal rights and civil rights. We continue to learn new ways to treat people and to be kind. We still have a long way to go. But I am hoping that by staying up to date and teaching my own children, my family can make a tiny difference.
Through the years I had to convince my own spouse that people-first language is more than just politically correct words. I have always tried to make sure any word that I use around others would not cause offense. As a teacher, I learned to be very aware of my use of language. I was also taught to include all cultures and ethnicities in my classroom. But for my spouse, our children taught him the value of people-first language.
When my oldest child was in preschool, his younger sister was diagnosed with a disability. I can remember reading up on how to explain things to my son. This was over 10 years ago. Back then, the term used for someone with a disability was a person with special needs.
Using that term, I taught him about his sister and her care needs. I remember being so proud of myself for being politically correct in teaching my child. I was also proud of myself for teaching my son about people and their differences.
Little did I know, my son thought the term special needs meant his sister was “special” and he was not! When he told this to me and his dad, his dad understood how important people-first language really was. Not just for the people who have disabilities but also the people around them.
Words can impact how people feel about themselves. It is about so much more than just words. It’s also how we treat each other. This very important lesson was taught to his parents by a child without a disability and his feelings. Using the term “special needs” is no longer termed appropriate but just using disabilities or special health care needs is.
People-first language changes from time to time. Here is a reference to the current terms and how to use them. There are also many family stories on people-first language on this website – just put “people-first language” in the Search Box to find them.